Rob Paternostro reflects on the 2023/24 season

Following the conclusion of Leicester Riders’ 2023/24 season, Head Coach Rob Paternostro reflected on the team’s playoffs, and the season as a whole. 

Playoff series vs Sheffield

The Riders’ season ended in the quarter-finals of the playoffs, losing 2-1 in a best-of-three series to the Sheffield Sharks.

Leicester took a Game One win, and had a chance to take the lead with seconds left at home in Game Two. But a double-dribble call gave Sheffield’s Prentiss Nixon the opportunity to hit a game winner with 1.6 seconds left, and a hotly contested no-call on a Miryne Thomas three sent the series back to Sheffield the following day. 

“We knew we had a great opportunity, holding the lead at halftime and then having a chance to take the lead with 25 seconds left,” said Paternostro. “The double-dribble call was devastating for us, and then Nixon hit a great shot- credit to him.

“It was a tough loss. As tough as they come. Especially when we had to be back on the road 13 hours later. We had our chance to win the series in Game Two, and next thing we know we’re on the road to Sheffield.”

The Sharks won Game Three convincingly in the second half, after a first half in which missed free throws were the difference between the sides. The Riders were down nine at the half after missing nine foul shots in the opening two quarters. 

It was a continuation from the day before, where Leicester shot 66% from the line. 

“In the first half the free throw line hurt us as it did in Game Two. If we made our free throws we’d have been in it, but we couldn’t handle Sheffield in the second half. Give them credit. Their home court advantage with the way their crowd was was too tough for us to overcome.”

The Riders were without their captain, Kimbal Mackenzie, for the playoff run. Paternostro addressed the impact of losing the team’s point guard, who was recently named to the British Team of the Year, had on the series. 

“Not having Kimbal for the playoffs was devastating for our chances. He was our leader, and the guy with the ball in his hands in the biggest moments of our season. It was a huge huge loss, but I thought other guys in Game One and Two stepped up to give us an opportunity to win the series.”

The fans

The raucous crowd played a factor in every game, with travelling numbers adding to every atmosphere. 

“The fans were top notch- as good as I can remember in any playoff series. Our fans really got that going on the road in Game One, and their fans came back and were awesome in Game Two. 

“Our fans were incredible at home. They played such a big role in driving us on at the end, and the next day they were fantastic again.” 

This year’s British Basketball League playoffs featured a new format, with the first two rounds taking place over a best-of-three series. The new format created an electric environment in the arenas. 

“As someone who has played in these series as a player, I know that they’re great for the fans. We saw that in this matchup. It really was a positive thing for the League to have that environment.”

Final reflections on the season

The season saw ups and downs throughout, following a large turnaround in players in the offseason. 

Paternostro reflected on how it unfolded over the course of the year. 

“We lost so much from the year before, where we were 25-11 in the League. We lost a lot of experienced players, who we knew would move on after some time. We missed them, but we put together a roster that was 4-1 to start the year.”

After the 4-1 start, the Riders fell to 7-10 having lost to the London Lions twice, and Cheshire Phoenix three times over a difficult stretch of fixtures. Leicester made changes to their roster, adding high volume scorer Teddy Allen and energetic big man Duke Shelton to the team ahead of the upcoming Trophy run in January. 

“We were in the mix and trying to find our feet, but hit a tough stretch of games and had to make some changes. When Teddy and Duke arrived, they provided a boost and we started to play some good basketball around the holidays. 

“We put ourselves in real contention for the Trophy, doing a great job to qualify through a challenging group. Then we had an amazing fightback against Cheshire and had the lead with seconds to go. We were trending upwards at that point and with a couple of bounces going differently we would have been in the first final of the season. 

Following the Trophy, the Riders faced six double header weekends. They went 2-4 in the second games of double headers after the Trophy, contributing to Leicester’s fall to .500 come the end of the year. 

“We were like a lot like other teams at around .500, and dealt with injuries at a crucial part of the season with a lot of double header weekends. Our record on those Sundays wasn’t the best and we dropped some games. This league is very challenging with its schedule, and it’s about who can survive the grind of February, March and April.”

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