Sheffield Sharks need performance of the season to overcome Leicester Riders in BBL play-offs

Sheffield Sharks will have to summon one of the greatest comebacks in their history if they are to keep their season alive in Leicester on Sunday.

The Sharks were beaten 79-70 by Leicester Riders in the first leg of the play-off quarter-final at Ponds Forge on Friday night, meaning a minimum 10-point win is required at the home of last year’s play-off champions if they are to advance to the semi-finals.

History suggests it is not beyond them. Last year they won the first leg in Glasgow by seven points but a team playing without a point guard were blown away in the second leg.

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And famously 12 seasons ago they overturned a 15-point deficit in Glasgow to advance.

Sa'eed Nelson stares down a basket (Picture: Adam Bates)Sa'eed Nelson stares down a basket (Picture: Adam Bates)
Sa'eed Nelson stares down a basket (Picture: Adam Bates)

They did well to stick around against Leicester, who built an 18-point lead in the second quarter and threatened to run away with the tie.

But Atiba Lyons’ side rallied on the back of Jalon Pipkins (eight rebounds, six assists) and Sa'eed Nelson's dynamic play, plus a timely three from Rodney Glasgow Jnr to cut the deficit to 10 at the half.

Sharks needed to maintain that momentum in the second half. With Pipkins missing a dunk and a lay-up it looked like they wouldn't, but again it was Nelson who lit the fuse, the 24-year-old American point guard clearly asked to take more shots and responding with 11 points.

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Glasgow's accuracy from the edge of the paint had a steadying influence as Sharks pulled to within three, getting the crowd and the bench on their feet.

Bennett Koch scores a lay-up against Leicester Riders (Picture: Adam Bates)Bennett Koch scores a lay-up against Leicester Riders (Picture: Adam Bates)
Bennett Koch scores a lay-up against Leicester Riders (Picture: Adam Bates)

But like the champions they are, Leicester rode the storm, their physicality and lack of support from the officials sparking fury on the sidelines from head coach Lyons.

Bennett Koch finished with 17 points and five rebounds as Sharks stayed in touch, but they will rue converting only two of 12 three-point attempts and not scoring with the final play when another basket might have given Leicester more cause for concern.

The BBL play-offs continue on Saturday when Sheffield Hatters host Sevenoaks Suns in a one-off WBBL quarter-final at All Saints Sports Centre. But if Sheffield want to host another game at Ponds Forge next week, they will need a season’s best effort in Leicester.