London Lions won the BBL Trophy for the first time in their history as they prevailed 88-82 winners against the Plymouth Raiders in a dramatic final at the University of Worcester Arena, following up the BA Lions’ WBBL Trophy triumph earlier in the day to complete a memorable double for the club.
It marks the Lions’ third piece of silverware since January 2019, and atones for a defeat in the final of this competition two years ago against their capital city rivals, while also bouncing back from January’s BBL Cup Final defeat to the Newcastle Eagles.
London meant business from the off in this one, leading from tip-to-buzzer despite it being close late on. A DeAndre Liggins step-back and a steal and dunk from Dirk Williams sparked a 12-2 burst that made the score 18-7 in the first quarter, as they allowed Plymouth just one bucket in five minutes.
Rapid starts to the second and third periods kept Raiders close, with the latter being a 15-2 burst that included nine for Rickey McGill – who finished with a game-high 31. That proved a theme of the game as Raiders stayed within striking distance throughout, but never went ahead.
Every time London’s lead look threatened, it seemed like one of their standouts – Williams or Liggins – was there to hit a big shot. Williams snapped the third quarter run with a three-pointer, and then hit another in a 9-2 response that sent the lead back to 63-55.
Lions could never shake Plymouth off, and they were back within one shot on numerous occasions in the fourth period, including at 74-71 before Liggins made a big ‘and-one’ play. With the game still on the line heading into the final minute, he made a free-throw and then had a second one that was bouncing around tipped in from the rim by the defense for two points, making it 84-77 with one minute to play.
There was still time for more late drama as Justin Robinson missed a pair of free-throws before Denzel Ubiaro tipped in to make it a one-shot game with 12 seconds to go, only for Orlando Parker to ice a pair at the charity stripe to ultimately settle it.
“I need to shout out to the London Lions fans because they are not here to enjoy this with us,” said Lions head coach Vince Macaulay post-game. “We are doing this for them, working really hard in this environment with no one around us and it’s for the fans, and I know they will appreciate getting this.
“We had to be animated today, and in all reality we were very focused on the job at hand. It was important for us to come out here and just concentrate on Lions and what we were doing, don’t let anything take us out of what we need to do, and I think we did that very well all the way down the stretch.
“In sports, it’s all about winning. If you don’t win, it doesn’t matter how well you have played. We have been there, stood on the sideline while Newcastle Eagles lifted the Cup having played extremely well in that game. It’s all about counting those trophies, because we want that to be the result of all our hard work.”
It was Liggins who lifted the MVP award, with a near triple-double of 19 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, and five steals. He also drew nine fouls and made 15 trips to the free-throw line, only seven of which he converted.
The 6’6″ 32-year-old from Chicago is a former NBA player who played alongside LeBron James for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has also won the NBA G-League title, and twice been named Defensive Player of the Year.
Despite his offensive prowess in this game, his defensive duties included holding Plymouth’s Mike Morsell to just six points, and switching on to McGill when he started to single-handedly drag Plymouth back into the game.
“I feel great, we came out and played extremely hard, and we just fought to the end and came out victorious,” said Liggins post-game.
“We were battling COVID earlier in the season, and I had to miss the Cup Final and felt really bad. That’s something I couldn’t control, so I’m glad that we could pull this one out and get the win.
“We couldn’t miss this opportunity again. So I just came in focused from the jump, and we found a will and found a way to come through adversity in the game. We just kept fighting to come out victorious.”
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