Leicester Riders are set to take on the Cheshire Phoenix in the British Basketball League Trophy Final Four on Saturday.
Here, we take a look at the numbers behind the matchup…
Locking off the paint
The Riders have invested in the defensive side of the ball, making the paint their own over the Trophy campaign.
They lead the competition in blocks, sending away 6.3 shots per game, with four Riders averaging at least a block per outing. They’re led by Canadian forward TJ Lall, who has denied opponents on six different occasions through the four group games.
Riders captain, Kimbal Mackenzie, said his CEBL teammate over the summer has been an integral factor in the defensive effort:
“TJ is a high-level, all-around threat. He can score the ball to a great standard, he is an underrated passer, and his defence, length and athleticism are special. I’ve gone against him many times in practice, and he can be tough to shake.”
This rim protection will be vital against the Phoenix, who lead the Trophy in points in the paint with 47 per game.
Battle on the boards
No defensive possession is complete until the rebound is pulled down, and the Riders have been closing the possessions to a high standard in recent weeks. They pull down the second-most defensive boards in the Trophy with 30 per game, just 0.5 per game away from the highest-ranked London Lions.
The battle on the boards will be key in this matchup. Cheshire crashes the offensive glass to grab the second most offensive rebounds in the competition with 13.5 per game.
However, their leading offensive rebounder, Ethan Chargois, will be sidelined for the game after suffering a dislocated finger last time out against the Sheffield Sharks.
For the Riders, Lall, again, has been a beast on the boards, grabbing 4.8 defensive rebounds per outing. But it’s big man Samuel Idowu who has rebounded at the highest rate in total, with 7.5 per game, including 2.8 on the offensive glass.
Idowu, who has been recovering from a season-ending knee injury for the previous two seasons, is back to his bruising best. He feels back to 100% fitness and can play with full confidence and athleticism.
“My body has been feeling good,” said Idowu. “It’s finally feeling normal after recovering from an injury for two seasons. I’m not overthinking any decisions on the court and playing how I used to play.
“I feel 100% because I have confidence in my knee again. It doesn’t hold me back from doing what I want to be doing out there when jumping or running, as it did at the start of the season. I’m where I wanted to be when I started my rehab.”
Idowu has ranked second on the team in scoring during the Trophy group, scoring 13.8 points per game after his 17-point explosion against the Newcastle Eagles to help send the Riders to the Final Four.
Track meet in transition
A key to the Phoenix’s success this season has been their ability to get out and run. They lead all teams in points off turnovers (24.75 per game) and fastbreak points (23.5 per game) and take the ball from the other team at the highest rate (21.11 turnover %), leading to the breakaway buckets.
American guard Laquincy Rideau has been a key factor in this, leading the team in steals, and ranking third among all players in that statistical category.
The Riders will have to play clean basketball, which they have done throughout January, turning the ball over the second-least with 11.75 turnovers per game.
Head Coach Rob Paternostro emphasised the importance of winning in transition:
“We can’t allow easy baskets. We have to take away easy runouts and layups, offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities. We have to make it tough for them to get good looks.
“In these types of games, it’s important to limit offensive opportunities, and if you do that, you put yourself in a good position to win.
“They’re really good in the open floor- they’ve scored the most in transition of any team season. They’ve done a good job of getting second-chance opportunities. That’s going to be vital to stop.
“When we’ve been able to limit those against anyone, we’ve been successful this year.”
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