Jelson Home DMU Leicester Riders’ season came to a conclusion with a dream finish, as Rob Paternostro’s team won the BBL Play-Off Final trophy following a 68-57 win over Newcastle Eagles at Wembley Arena.
Drew Sullivan’s MVP performance of 24 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals helped guide the Riders to their third piece of silverware this year, off the back of the BBL Cup in January and the club’s first-ever BBL Championship.
It brings to an end the most successful season in Leicester Riders history.
“It’s a feeling of excitement and relief,” said Paternostro.
“I felt that this team, this year, deserved to go out like this. With the type of season that we’ve had, nothing less than a win for us was ever going to be good enough. I thought we dominated from start to finish. We had a couple of lapses here and there, but we knew that was going to be a problem at times. We just kept going; 40 minutes, 90 feet – that’s been our motto all year.”
With Newcastle improving at the end of the second quarter, Fab Flournoy’s side came out of the blocks quickly in the second half; however Rob reveals he had no doubt his side would get the job done and praised the condition of his players, who were forced to endure a rigorous game schedule towards the end of the regular season into the Play-Offs.
“We talked about Newcastle getting back into it, but we just said ‘deal with it if they do’,” he revealed.
“We don’t need to focus too much on the scoreboard, just keep going and I don’t think our guys were too worried about it. Once they got out on the floor in the second half, we were able to keep the energy up, which I thought was important. This was a game in the season about conditioning and I thought our team, all through the season and all through the year, was in great condition – and they showed that today. Remember, the type of schedule we played at the end of the season was gruelling; six games in eleven days, eleven games in eighteen days and later these quick turnaround Play-Off games – we had more energy in every game than everybody else and that’s a testament to our guys, their conditioning, their heart and their will to win.”
Paternostro was also full of praise for Sullivan, who was also presented with his BBL MVP award ahead of the game in front of a packed arena.
“Drew took hold of the game and that’s what he does,” said the Riders head coach.
“He picks the spots and he was a little tired today; he’s played a lot of minutes this season coming off the back of the Olympic Games and he’s the type of guy that is so competitive. If there was nobody in the gym today, if it was just us, he would be just as competitive and that’s what we love about him. He doesn’t do it for the adulation of the crowd or for the stats; he does it because he’s a competitor. That’s rubbed off on everybody this season. This team is a competitive bunch that will do everything it can to win.”