- National Teams
London Lions are the team that stands in the way of another clean sweep for Newcastle Eagles, after booking a playoff final clash with the league champions, at the O2 Arena, next Sunday.
The Lions held off a late charge from Cheshire Phoenix to book their spot in Sunday’s final as they claimed a 158-153 aggregate victory.
Meanwhile, Fab Flournoy’s side were locked in a tight battle over the first five quarters of their semi-final against Sheffield Sharks before producing a rampant finish to win 209-168 on aggregate.
Newcastle edged a thriller at the EIS on Friday night as a late basket from Rahmon Fletcher gave his side a 91-90 victory. Sheffield – looking for another upset following their win against second seeds Leicester Riders – had taken the lead in the final minute on a three from BJ Holmes.
Scott Martin led the way for the visitors with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. The Eagles had to cope without Andre Jones for both legs.
On Sunday, another high-scoring even start occurred as the two teams were tied at 26 at the end of the first. The Sharks took the lead on the night, and on aggregate with an early basket from Mike Tuck, before Newcastle responded with a 12-2 run as they began to take control.
The lead was eight points at the half, and the Eagles were simply dominant when play resumed as they outscored their opponents 66-34 in the second half to run out convincing winners at Sport Central. Fletcher top scored with a 28-point haul, while Andrew Lasker flirted with a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists.
In the other semi-final, the first leg looked evenly poised with London narrowly ahead at 44-42 in the third quarter. The Lions then took complete control to open up a 22-point advantage after going on a pivotal 24-4 run.
Cheshire were able to cut their deficit to 11 points, but Taylor King missed 3 out of 4 free throws late on, and they allowed Zaire Taylor an easy basket in the final seconds to make it 81-68.
The Lions raced out of the blocks in the second leg at the Northgate Arena – the venue’s last BBL game – with a 12-2 burst increasing the gap to 23 points on aggregate. The home side responded well and managed to take the lead on the night, before Taylor netted a late three in the half to make it 42-40 in favour of the Lions.
David Aliu put his side back in the lead with a free throw, only for Taylor to drain another triple as the capital side went on a run to lead by 8 on the night with Phoenix left with it all to do in the final quarter.
Cheshire rallied in the fourth and opened up a four-point lead with a much-needed 12-2 run. They began to find their range from downtown as Aliu and Simon Naydenov both connected from beyond the arc to make it 72-62 on the night with Nix within just three overall.
After the Lions had trimmed their deficit on the night to five points, Dustin Salisbery landed back-to-back triples, while Naydenov netted another to help their side to within just two points on aggregate. They still led by 11 with 45 seconds left and would have the chance to force overtime, but for a costly turnover.
Taylor put the game beyond doubt from the free throw line, and the reigning playoff final MVP finished with a game-high 32 points, and will now go in search of a third consecutive playoffs title having won the previous two seasons with Leicester and Worcester Wolves.
Results: Semi-Finals. Friday- Sheffield Sharks 90-91 Newcastle Eagles (1st leg); London Lions 81-68 Cheshire Phoenix (1st leg). Sunday- Newcastle Eagles 118-78 Sheffield Sharks (2nd leg); Cheshire Phoenix 85-77 London Lions.
The final takes place at the O2 Arena on Sunday 10th May, and will be broadcast live on the BBC Sport website & red button as well as on BBL TV.
Image credit: London Lions