Sunday 12 January 2014
National Indoor Arena, Birmingham (15:30)
It is perhaps fitting that this season’s maiden meeting between 2012/13’s top two, Esh Group Eagles Newcastle and Leicester Riders, comes in the BBL’s first showpiece event of the season, the BBL Cup Final this Sunday.
The teams met on five occasions last term and Leicester won each of them, going a long way to helping them secure their historic treble.
The second of those five victories came in last year’s Cup final as a last-minute turnaround ended Riders’ 12-year wait for BBL silverware in dramatic fashion.
In a sense, this would set the tone for the season as Riders swept the league series against second-placed Eagles to take the Championship title before adding the Play-off crown to their collection with a 68-57 success over their closest competitors at Wembley Arena.
Leicester’s intentions were made soon after this when they re-signed star player Drew Sullivan for this term, prompting many others to follow as their core group remained.
There were changes in the North East however, as the likes of Paul Gause and Drew Lasker returned from previous campaigns to join stalwarts Fab Flournoy, Charles Smith and Darius Defoe, along with BBL newcomers Scott Martin and Malik Cooke in the Eagles line-up.
But Riders coach Rob Paternostro (pictured) knows that Newcastle’s trophy-winning pedigree remains, and their talented roster will provide a range of threats.
He said: “Newcastle are a team that have many weapons both inside and out, they have players that have been in BBL finals before and have added some talented newcomers which gives them a very balanced team.”
Like Leicester, Newcastle pride themselves on tough defence, a quality which usually allows these teams to get out and score points in transition.
But both sides will be out to stifle their opponents in this area on Sunday.
Paternostro added: “It’s important that we take care of the basketball and do not allow them any easy baskets, they are a team that can score in bunches so it’s important to limit their runs.”
Eagles enjoyed a free run into the final this week, without a game last weekend – although they did insert an exhibition game against Leeds Carnegie into their schedule to preserve their rhythm.
Conversely, Riders came through a double-overtime thriller against One Health Sharks Sheffield last weekend, a victory which could see them arrive in Birmingham with a spring in their step.
“It was a heck of a basketball game against Sheffield on Saturday,” recalled Paternostro.
“Both teams played extremely hard for the 50 minutes in front of a great crowd that produced a tremendous atmosphere.
“I was proud of our guys, they made big plays in key moments to get us the win.”
If Sunday’s final is any bit as exciting as that game, or the previous meetings between these two teams, BBL fans are in for a treat at the NIA on Sunday.
Last time they met:
Leicester Riders 68 Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 57 (BBL Play-off Final, Wembley Arena, 28/04/2013)
For information about tickets visit www.theticketfactory.com.