A fitting finale
Newcastle fully deserved their BBL triumph, says Daniel Routledge, despite Leicester's tenacity.
Last Updated: 20/05/12 4:15pm
So there we have it, another season in the books and another trophy in the cabinet for the Newcastle Eagles.
There was something fitting about the BBL's most successful club claiming the 100th trophy in the league's history, but there was no doubt they were made to work hard for it.
'Offence wins games, defence wins Championships' goes the old adage and on Saturday we saw defence winning the Championship game!
Newcastle equalled the record for the lowest score by a winning team, Leicester broke the record for lowest score by a loser and collectively they posted the lowest combined points total (173) in play-off final history.
Two teams with undoubted firepower, basically locked each other down for 40 minutes, it was a pleasure to watch.
I thought the job Newcastle did on Cameron Rundles in the first half was sensational. They'd clearly marked him down as key to slowing the Riders and barely gave him an inch.
At the other end Drew Sullivan and Ayron Hardy were all over the passing lanes and in six first quarter minutes Leicester gave up just one basket to the champions.
Perhaps one of the key plays of the game came in the second period when Leicester, leading 26-13, had a two-on-one fastbreak. But the old vet Charles Smith stole the ball and with it the momentum. Within a couple of minutes it was 27-26 to the Riders.
One of the other keys came early in the second half, when Cameron Rundles was whistled for two fouls in 30 seconds to send him to the bench on four with over 17 minutes of the game left.
From my angle there didn't look much difference between the two fouls and yet one was offensive and the other defensive. In such a strong, physical, defensive game, it was a shame to see one of the star players heading to the bench for a couple of innocuous off-the-ball fouls.
And there is no doubt it hurt the Riders. For was well as Newcastle had guarded the Leicester man in the first half - virtually nullifying him as a scoring threat - the dynamic of Leicester's offence changed in the seven minutes he was off the court.
And so did the lead, Newcastle had a ten-point swing to lead by seven by the time he returned to the action.
Don't get me wrong, the Eagles were the better team on the day and deserved their victory. They made plays when they needed to, hit shots when they needed to and were sensational defensively. Champions doing what champions do.
Joe Chapman and Andy Thompson were a little quieter than normal offensively, but both hit important shots down the stretch and I thought Paul Gause was brilliant for them, a real difference-maker in the game.
Smith, who lest we forget essentially retired last summer, picked up his second MVP award of the season in an NIA final. And whilst I've been lauding Newcastle's defence, what can you say about Fab Flournoy who leads by example for that team?
I could name check them all, it was a great team defensive display.
Leicester can be proud of their efforts this season too. In the final Sullivan was immense and Hardy again close to a triple-double. When they get far enough away from the disappointment of defeat, they will reflect positively on their best-ever season.
For a team with a couple of kids straight out of college to finish second and reach a final is a great testament to them as a group and Rob Paternostro as a recruiter and coach.
All season long their major weakness has been free throw shooting and ultimately that cost them dearly in the final. 6-for-20 from the line, 0-for-10 in the fourth quarter, will win no game of basketball.
It did make me wonder if there is something in the rings because Newcastle were poor from the line at that basket as well. Free throw shooting at one end of the court was 15-of-22 and at the other was 3-of-20. That's my random stat of the final!
As I walked to the shop to get some milk on Sunday morning, the sun was shining as it always seems to be the day after the season. I think it is the basketball gods' way of telling me the season is over, the summer is coming.
The great thing about my job is going to venues around the country and enjoying the atmosphere the BBL creates, so a big thanks to all the fans, players, coaches and clubs around the league who've so entertained us this season.
Of course this summer there is the small matter of GB in the Olympics to look forward to and I think both our men's and women's teams will do well. Tom Maher's side particularly have a good chance at glory I feel.
Before I go, and it's something I usually try and avoid, in the politics of the sport we saw a big announcement at the weekend. The British Basketball Union was formed, bringing together those who run the national teams, the BBL and the national associations of England and Scotland into a formal partnership.
Having all the major players in the game working together, speaking with one voice and being a single point of access to the game for people who want to play, watch and get involved has got to be a great thing.
It feels like a momentous moment in the history of the sport in this country, so I wish them every success.