It came down to a pair of free-throws from BJ Holmes with ten seconds to play, and he led all scorers with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists for an unquestionable MVP performance; he was supported by 15 points and 7 rebounds from Demetrius Jemison.
The league-leading Riders were led by Jay Couisnard’s 21 points. The result was somewhat of an upset as the Riders had previously beaten the Sharks on four occasions this season, by margins of between 16 and 30 points each time; but this time the Sharks held the favourites scoreless for a crucial six minutes late in the game.
The Sharks did lead for much of the game, resolutely keeping the favourites for the league title at bay on numerous occasions. They exchanged baskets to open the game, with the Sharks edging the early exchanges before Couisnard’s three-pointer and a basket from Zaire Taylor gave the Riders their first lead of the game at 9-7. It didn’t last long, as Holmes’ three-pointer gave the Sharks the edge back, before a number of lead changes until the teams were tied at 13. The Sharks gained the ascendancy as they posted a rapid 8-2 burst, with Holmes and Andrew Bridge scoring from beyond the arc, to take a 17-21 lead that they carried through to the end of the first quarter at 21-23. BJ Holmes was clearly in the mood as he scored 11 first quarter points.
The Sharks built on that to start the second quarter with a 10-5 spell over the opening five minutes, the score at 26-33, despite the Riders initially tying the game with the first score from Drew Sullivan. The Riders called a timeout, but it didn’t help them as they failed to make any inroads and, in fact, Jemison gave the Sharks a double-digit lead at 27-37 with 2.40 to play in the first half.
But another chance for Rob Paternostro to talk to his team, when the Sharks called timeout, did seem to sort the Riders out as Cousinard’s dunk soon afterwards changed the momentum in the run up to half time. The Riders held the Sharks scoreless for the last two minutes and scored the last 7 points themselves, with Taylor getting the other 5 of those to cut the gap to 36-39.
The Riders looked as though they would build on that momentum as they scored the opening basket of the third quarter through Cousinard, but the Sharks stood firm. They responded with a 7-0 surge over two minutes, with Jemison scoring the first 5 of those including an ‘and-one’ play to swing the momentum in their favour and push the lead back out to 38-46. But another timeout seemed to make the difference for the Riders after Nick Lewis made the score 44-51 with a three-pointer; the Riders came storming out of the timeout to tie the game at 51 with Anthony Rowe scoring 4 and a Couisnard three-pointer.
But again they could not capitalise as the Sharks held their nerve to push the lead back out as Holmes immediately broke the tie with a three-pointer of his own; when Holmes hit another triple with a minute to play in the third, the lead was back out to eight at 53-61 as, after their burst, the Riders went two and a half minutes without scoring.
And the Riders failed to score in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, making it nearly six minutes without a basket, as the Sharks put their lead through double-digits with scores from Olu Babalola and Jemison making it 53-65. But from there Sheffield’s resoluteness was tested to the full.
Paternostro intervened with another timeout, and the Riders made a massive final push with a 13-2 run as 8 more points for Taylor made it a one-point game, his second three-pointer in that run making the score 66-67 with a little over three minutes to play.
Leicester’s comeback was complete with 1.18 to play when Jorge Calvo made another three-pointer to tie the game at 69, but once more the Sharks did not allow them to get in front.
The Riders had two chances to take the lead, through Jamall Anderson and Cousinard, but could not convert either before BJ Holmes was fouled by Couisnard with 10 seconds to play.
He showed fortitude characteristic of his team to sink both of his free-throws and win the Trophy.
Story – BBL
Photos – MPhotography
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