- National Teams
It’s not how it should be, but the first piece of silverware is up for grabs today as London Lions take on Newcastle Eagles in the 2021 BBL Cup final.
No fans, two venue switches, but a worldwide audience ready to tune in with the title showdown broadcast live on Sky Sports – as part of the league’s new deal this season.
Two of the last three BBL Cup finals have seen teams battling it out to get their name on the trophy for the first time. However, that’s not the case at the Morningside Arena in Leicester as two-time winners London look to close the gap on Newcastle’s record haul of five triumphs.
The Lions prevailed in 2019 – in part one of their historic double-winning season – to end an 11-year wait to reclaim the crown they first won in 2008, also under the guidance of Vince Macaulay as head coach.
Newcastle lifted the title for the first time in December, 2005 before a second followed in January, 2012 with both victories part of memorable clean sweeps. The Eagles were runners-up to Leicester Riders in successive years, but a victory over Glasgow Rocks in 2015 sparked a run of three successive Cup titles with Rahmon Fletcher named MVP on each occasion.
The two teams were paired with each other alongside Leicester Riders and Sheffield Sharks in the ‘Group of Death’ in the opening phase.
Newcastle grabbed the very early bragging rights with victory in London to open the season and they backed up that performance with success on the road against Leicester. Ian Macleod’s side won three of their first four games, and sealed qualification by beating Sheffield away from the home – eventually topping the group.
In contrast, the Lions suffered three defeats from their first four games before turning their campaign around with a convincing 20-point win in Newcastle. Vince Macaulay’s side then defeated Sheffield to finish 3-3 with their place in the last eight confirmed.
The 2019 champions then went on the road to knock out high-flying Plymouth Raiders with an 80-85 victory, while Newcastle overcame the challenge of Bristol Flyers with a 72-64 triumph.
In the semi-finals, the Eagles had to battle past perennial rivals Leicester for a 71-76 victory to set up a showdown with the Lions, who received a bye into the final after Manchester Giants had to withdraw due to the COVID-19 regulations.
These two teams are packed with talent and while the Cup final will be decided by a lot more than Justin Robinson against Rahmon Fletcher, it is a battle always worth watching as two of the league’s greatest players go head-to-head.
Fletcher earned back-to-back league MVP awards from 2015-17 – adding to his individual Cup accolades – and then GB international Robinson picked up the mantle and matched the incredible feat by claiming the league MVP award in each of his first two seasons in the BBL.
Vitally important to the success of their teams, both players orchestrate their offences with an ability to take over at any given moment.
DeAndre Liggins could well be a favourite for the MVP award today having impressed with his all-round performances this season. The American averaged 19.4 points in the competition along with 7.7 rebounds and a league best of 3.1 steals per game.
Dirk Williams has been lights out from beyond the arc and put up 16.1 points per game in seven appearances having made his return to the BBL following a previous spell in Sheffield.
As for the Eagles, Cortez Edwards can be expected to play a big role in their fortunes. The American has averages of 13.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game to highlight his importance and he has the chance to emulate Orlan Jackman’s recent feat of winning the Cup with two different teams in as many years having won the title with Worcester Wolves last season.
Evan Maxwell has formed a strong partnership with Justin Gordon in the front-court and was the competition’s second leading scorer with his mark of 19.5 points per outing. He shot at 51% from the field through eight games and also recorded 7.6 boards with a best of 26 points coming in Leicester.
The Lions turned heads in the summer when they assembled one of the deepest rosters in BBL history as they readied themselves for the added challenge of Europe this season. They will comfortably go 12 deep on Sunday but it will be Newcastle as well, looking for that impact off the bench.
Darius Defoe and Drew Lasker have 30+ seasons of BBL experience between them, and know all about what it takes to win. Just re-watch the 2020 BBL Trophy final for an example as to why. Then you also have Louis Sayers, who has found a nice role with the Eagles and showcased his deadly range from outside with a couple of daggers in the Cup win at the Copper Box to open the season.
London could go different ways with their starting lineup having interchanged Fahro Alihodzic and Chris Tawiah in recent weeks, while Kingsley Okoroh offers another big presence in the paint. Kevin Ware offers a change in energy off the bench along with reliable figures in Andre Lockhart and captain Joe Ikhinmwin.
Ed Lucas and Jordan Spencer are two further talents that could have much bigger roles at almost any other team in the league to epitomise the depth of this Lions team, though the importance of staying ready could also come to fruition with finals often turned by pivotal moments at crucial stages.
Probable starting lineups:
Lions – Robinson, Liggins, Williams, Parker, Tawiah
Eagles – Fletcher, Edwards, Pflueger, Gordon, Maxwell
The BBL Cup final is scheduled to tip at 3:30pm and can be watched on Sky Sports Arena/Mix channels and Sky Sports’ YouTube channel.