2021 BBL play-off semi-finals: Kieron Achara breaks down the final four
Kieron Achara takes a closer look at the Leicester Riders, London Lions, Plymouth Raiders and Newcastle Eagles ahead of the BBL play-off semi-finals. Watch the BBL and WBBL play-off finals live on Sky Sports on Sunday, May 16.
Last Updated: 11/05/21 9:43am
With the final week of the BBL season upon us, former Glasgow Rocks forward and Team GB international Kieron Achara examines the final four teams ahead of the play-off semi-finals.
The Leicester Riders entered the postseason as league champions after clinching the title for the fifth time in their history with victory over the Cheshire Phoenix in the penultimate week of the campaign, before sealing their spot in the final four with a win over the Bristol Flyers.
They meet the seven-time league champion and six-time play-off champion Newcastle Eagles, who overcame the Sheffield Sharks by two points on aggregate in their quarter-final contest.
In the second semi-final, the second-seeded London Lions arrive riding a 14-game winning run after hitting a hot streak on the back of their BBL Trophy triumph over the Plymouth Raiders, who await as their opponents having won 15 of their last 16 games.
2021 BBL play-off semi-finals
|Tuesday, May 11||Leicester Riders v Newcastle Eagles|
|London Lions v Plymouth Raiders|
|Thursday, May 13||Leicester Riders v Newcastle Eagles|
|London Lions v Plymouth Raiders|
2021 BBL play-off quarter-final results
|Monday, May 3||Leicester Riders 85-56 Bristol Flyers|
|London Lions 73-66 Cheshire Phoenix|
|Tuesday, May 4||Newcastle Eagles 79-77 Sheffield Sharks|
|Plymouth Raiders 84-82 Worcester Wolves|
|Wednesday, May 5||Leicester Riders 92-79 Bristol Flyers|
|London Lions 95-60 Cheshire Phoenix|
|Thursday, May 6||Newcastle Eagles 81-81 Sheffield Sharks|
|Plymouth Raiders 96-81 Worcester Wolves|
Achara's guide to the final four teams...
1. Leicester Riders
Leicester Riders details
|Head coach||Robert Paternostro|
|Final league position||Champions (24-6)|
|BBL play-off appearances||33|
|Top Scorer||Geno Crandall (15.9ppg)|
|Rebound leader||William Lee (7.7rpg)|
|Assist leader||Geno Crandall (7.8apg)|
Who are the Riders?
Achara: "The Leicester Riders are probably the most consistent team in the BBL over the last few years, they're always there competing for championships. The identity of Leicester Riders has always been their defense, they're a really strong defensive unit and this year they're right there again. But what they have this year, with past teams it's always been a very collective team and a lot of players doing a lot of things, this year they've got that collective unit but they've also got a superstar in their team in Geno Crandall at point guard. Geno has really kind of shone, he takes a great leadership role.
"At the same time they've got the supporting case of Conner Washington, who is another great guard. They've got a defensive stopper in Jamell Anderson. They've got some great big men in Darien Nelson-Henry and Ali Fraser. There are so many positions where they do well.
"For me it's the coach, Robert Paternostro, he has the players well drilled and buying into that system which is a real achievement in itself because when you have so many talented players on your team, to get them to buy into this team ethos that is not just about you but about the team, he's done a great job with that. They missed out on the BBL Cup, they got knocked out of the BBL Trophy so winning the league was a massive thing, but the playoffs are going to be their main focus."
"Geno (Crandall) is quite an interesting player because he's not just a great offensive player, he's also a really good defensive player. He's a superstar but his mindset is very much 'what can he do to help the team win?' and sometimes that is scoring, sometimes that is passing the ball.
"He brings a lot of flair, he's a real fun player to watch, but his basketball IQ is on another level. He's a really intelligent player so he is starting to see things on the floor that maybe some other people wouldn't see. He essentially makes his team-mates' jobs a lot easier. He's a unique player because of his IQ, his talent and his athleticism. I call him a 'unicorn' because he's got a bit of everything."
2. London Lions
London Lions details
|Head coach||Vince Macaulay|
|Final league position||2nd (23-7)|
|BBL play-off appearances||19|
|Top Scorer||Dirk Williams (18.3ppg)|
|Rebound leader||Chris Tawiah (5.7rpg)|
|Assist leader||DeAndre Liggins (6.9apg)|
Who are the Lions?
Achara: "London on paper by far, and it's a landslide, are just too deep. Playing London when London are playing at their best, I don't think any team in this league can compete with them. They're that strong. They have it all, they have scoring, they have size. Justin Robinson, two-time MVP, can actually take a backseat this year because of the amount of talent in their team. They're a really scary team. But again, they have been an inconsistent team. They had a whole new bunch of guys come into the team, they've been through COVID, had injuries and there have been a lot of ups and downs.
"I think the one negative that went against them is their team is assembled for Europe so a lot of the players had that mindset of playing in European competition. They never really got that opportunity and that must be hard for a professional player who has come into a league like the BBL and their mindset is mainly on Europe and it hasn't really happened.
"They've been resilient enough to bounce back from that and get a re-focus and the Trophy was the thing for them, they experienced that success there and they want it all. They came up short in the league because of the poor start to the season they have but their momentum right now. I don't think any team would want to be facing the London Lions at this moment in time."
"DeAndre Liggins for me has been the standout. Just his ability to change the game both defensively and offensively. From an elite defensive perspective, I've never seen anybody in the BBL as skilled as him defensively. I think his ability to change the game defensively as well as score and distribute for other players is a real pleasure to have in our league. To me, he is the main man but I've seen games that DeAndre hasn't played this season and Dirk Williams goes for 40+ points and steps up wherever he needs to, so they have so much talent. I always say, with the inconsistencies they've had, you don't know what London team is going to show up. You would think in the playoffs, if they have the mindset they had in that Trophy final, they will be unstoppable."
3. Plymouth Raiders
Plymouth Raiders details
|Head coach||Paul James|
|Final league position||3rd (21-9)|
|BBL play-off appearances||7|
|Top Scorer||Ashley Hamilton (16.3ppg)|
|Rebound leader||Prince Ibeh (7.3rpg)|
|Assist leader||Elvisi Dusha (4.3 apg)|
Who are the Raiders?
Achara: "Paul James... what is it, over 1,000 games in charge? It's unbelievable to see. He's a very experienced coach, knows the league in and out. But what he was always really good at in my opinion was recruiting big strong, physical presences and he has done it again. He's got a really strong, physical team. The one thing again that I say about Plymouth is they are definitely built for the playoffs because of that physicality. They are the best defensive team in the league.
"They do change the game, they are a very hard team to score against, physical, strong, in your face constantly and that's what has given them that direction into the playoffs as one of the top teams. Probably the most in-form team over the last couple of months.
"For me, the biggest change was Rickey McGill. He has really stepped up his game and was playing at an MVP level for the last couple of months which completely changed the direction of their team. They were always competing defensively but when they added that scoring prowess as well they were really great to watch.
"I actually believe Ashley Hamilton is the key man in that team. From a Plymouth scoring perspective, there are only a few options. With everything else they have a lot of strength in depth and size defensively. To actually be able to create their own shot and score, McGill and Hamilton need to be playing at their best."
4. Newcastle Eagles
Newcastle Eagles details
|Head coach||Ian MacLeod|
|Final league position||4th (18-12)|
|BBL play-off appearances||25|
|Top Scorer||Rahmon Fletcher (19.2ppg)|
|Rebound leader||Cortez Edwards (7.3apg)|
|Assist leader||Rahmon Fletcher (9.3apg)|
Who are the Eagles?
Achara: "Newcastle are such an interesting team and they've had such an interesting season. They won the BBL Cup and they were playing some really good basketball. Then Justin Gordon got injured - I think he missed like six or seven games - and they started losing quick. That's the scary thing about the BBL, one injury when you're playing one or two times a week can completely change the dynamic and essentially put you out of winning the league.
"I don't think Newcastle fully recovered from that, they've been very, very inconsistent but then they got that big win against Leicester in the last couple of weeks of the season which showed what they are capable of. But at the same time, they're playing a team like the Glasgow Rocks very close when these are games they should be winning. I have been quite disappointed with Newcastle, but they're a team you can never count out because they just know how to win."
"Rahmon Fletcher is their floor general and does it all, scores at a high rate. But I've really been impressed with Cortez Edwards and (Justin) Gordon, I think they've been standout players. But it's so hard, they're so deep. Evan Maxwell plays a massive role, Darius Defoe is a veteran player who comes in as a defensive stopper, he really changes the rhythm of games and did a real good job against the Leicester Riders. They have a lot of talent as well, but they've just been so inconsistent. Rahmon Fletcher is their guy, he's the guy."
Follow the WBBL and BBL play-offs on Sky Sports, right through to both finals which take place on Sunday May 16.