Playoff Preview: Riders v Sharks Game One

Leicester Riders are set to take on the Sheffield Sharks for Game One of the opening round of the 2024 British Basketball League Playoffs. 

The four-seeded Sharks earned home court advantage after their performances in the Championship this season, so the Riders will take the short trip to Sheffield for the first game of a best-of-three series.

The sides have played out some closely fought battles in Sheffield this season. Here’s everything you need to know about the matchup. 

Where to watch

The game will take place at the Canon Medical Arena, Sheffield, tipping off at 4 pm.

It will be available to watch live on the British Basketball League YouTube channel!

Ones to watch

Malek Green 

15.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 49.7 FG%

The Sharks’ midseason acquisition, Malek Green, hit the ground running in the British Basketball League, and finished the season as their leading scorer. 

After going 17 and 7 on his debut in only 16 minutes of action, Green has been a consistent source of boards and buckets for the Sharks, finishing the year with 22 and 14 to lock up home court advantage against the Plymouth City Patriots. 

From the wing, Green ranked third among players in rebounds this season, and his 8.7 per game is more than he averaged throughout his five-year college career.

Green averaged 19 and 9 in his two games against the Riders this season, and will pose a true threat throughout this series. 

Devearl Ramsey 

11.1 points, 4.6 assists, 4.1 rebounds 

Devearl Ramsey has protected home court against the Riders this season with two explosive scoring performances. 

Typically, Ramsey is the Sharks’ source of playmaking, running the point to lead them in assists this season. But against the Riders the former G-Leager put his scoring ability on full display. 

His two highest-scoring games this year have come at home against Leicester, putting up 23 points and 9 assists last time out, and going off for 22 to lead Sheffield to a win in November. 

He consistently finds his way to the midrange, where he has shot most efficiently all season, so the Riders will need to be locked into their pick-and-roll defence to stop his drives off the dribble. 

Jalon Pipkins

11.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, 51.9 FG%

Sheffield’s second-leading scorer, Jalon Pipkins, has been a consistent source of points for the Sharks this season. 

The efficient bucket-getter has scored double-digit points in 25 Championship games, and put up 17 last time he suited up against the Riders. 

The 6’5” three-level scorer is a threat from anywhere on the court. He’s a human highlight reel, showcasing some of the most high-flying throw downs in British basketball over the last two seasons in Sheffield.

The Riders’ rim protection will be on high-alert when Pipkins looks to rise high on drives to the hoop. 

Season vs Sharks

The Riders have faced off against the Sharks four times this season, winning the season series 3-1. 

READ MORE: Season series: Riders vs Sharks

There was, however, a disparity in their performances when playing away compared to their home games. At home, they averaged 106.5 points, turning the ball over only six times per game and knocking down 46% of their threes. In Sheffield, however, it was 86 points per game with an average of 15.5 turnovers. 

In games where the Sharks forced over 10 turnovers out of the Riders they beat them by a net score of four, but when Leicester kept the giveaways in single digits they won by an average of 21. 

In contrast to Leicester’s varying performances at home compared to on the road, the Sharks found consistency in their output both home and away. However, their typically stalwart defence didn’t find the same success against the Riders as it did the rest of the League. 

Their League-best defence made them the only team to hold their opponents to under 80 points per game over the season, but they failed to do so against Leicester in their four meetings. They had no answer for Teddy Allen, who averaged 29 points in his three games against the Sharks. 

Sheffield did better their scoring average against the Riders over the series, putting up 86 points per game, but the numbers suggest that Leicester’s ability to take care of the ball will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the series. 

Playoff History: Riders vs Sharks

Sheffield are a familiar foe in the Playoffs for Leicester. This matchups marks the 10th time in the last 23 seasons where the sides have met in the postseason, and the fourth time in the past 10 years. 

The previous two postseason meetings have gone the Riders’ way, most recently last year where Leicester bested them 153-140 over a two-legged series.

2016 was the last time Sheffield beat the Riders in the Playoffs- Atiba Lyons’ men winning 84-77 in the Final. 

The Riders have the advantage of unrivalled playoff-winning experience at the reins. Head Coach Rob Paternostro has won the competition five times, the second most of any coach in League history, and four of those wins have come since the Final was hosted at the O2 Arena. 

Sharks’ Head Coach Atiba Lyons is no stranger to playoff success himself, winning in 2016 for the second time in the club’s history. It’s been first-round exits for Sheffield in the last two seasons, however, and they now look to avoid falling to Leicester in the postseason for the second straight year. 

What they said

With the Championship season in their rear-view mirror, the Riders are looking forward to the chance to set the record straight after what they feel was a season with unmet potential. 

READ MORE: Riders speak to BBC Radio Leicester ahead of the Playoffs

Here’s what they had to say ahead of the opening round:

Teddy Allen

“You never want to go out on a down note in win-or-go-home scenarios,” said leading scorer Teddy Allen

“We feel like we could have done a lot better throughout the year, and now is our chance to prove that. We are locked in as a unit, and it’s time for everyone to work towards a common goal. 

“When asked about the Riders’ path to a potential Final at the O2 Arena, Allen expressed his confidence in the team to be able to beat anybody in front of them.

“Anybody can get it. Whoever is in our way, we feel confident that we can win.”

TJ Lall

“Our mentality has to change now,” added TJ Lall, when asked about the difference in approach between the Championship season and the Playoffs. 

“We have to be more locked in and in-tune. We’ll see the Sharks multiple times, so we have to adjust and be ready for their adjustments.”

On a similar note to Allen, Lall looks forward to the chance of showing the League what this unit is capable of. 

“Everyone here wants to win. We know we’re talented and have not shown our full potential, and were ready to show it during the playoffs. The pressure is good for us. We play better under pressure.”

Duke Shelton

American big Duke Shelton discussed the level of intensity required ahead of a postseason matchup. 

“Everyone is going to step up and raise their level of play. It’s the playoffs, which is almost like a new season where anything can happen.

“It’s a new mindset now. I’m sure the rest of the team feel the same way, and that also goes for the other teams in the league. We’re ready to compete. 

“The team that’s willing to give a little bit more, most of the time, will win. Basketball is a game where the team with the fewest mistakes has a huge edge, so we need to be focussed and ready to play our best ball.”

Rob Paternostro

Having reached the summit of British basketball five times before, Head Coach Rob Paternostro knows exactly what winning in the postseason requires. 

He is as eager as ever to fight on the biggest stage, at the O2 Arena. 

“Once you get to the playoffs there’s so much urgency because if you don’t play well you’re going home. Everyone wants to be at the O2 by the end, and we’ve been there nearly every year. It’s wonderful to be there, so that’s always the goal.

“At our best we feel like we’re a really good team, and we’re in good shape going into the playoffs.”

Tickets are on sale for our home fixture against the Sheffield Sharks!

Get yours here!