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Sheffield, Scants complete their medal set


BBL Championship Play-Off Final 2004

Sheffield 86 (18, 44, 60)
Chester 74 (19, 38, 55)

It's not how you start. It's how you finish.

On the final day of the domestic campaign, Sheffield Sharks saved the best to last and were duly crowned as BBL Championship play-off champions, defeating Chester Jets 86-74 at the National Indoor Arena.

Ten years in the league, it was the first time Sheffield had claimed the one prize which had thus far been so elusive, a victory punctuated with Most Valuable Player Lynard Stewart's game-ending dunk capping his game-best 25 points haul. 

20 years a pro but never a victor in this competition, coach Peter Scantlebury likewise completed his medal collection and a rookie campaign on the bench which has reaped two of the four BBL prizes.

Mike Nurse dished open the game's opening score from three point range but in a first half that went tit for tat for its first 16 minutes, Sheffield immediately levelled, going in front for the initial time at 12-11 midway through the opening quarter.

With the game starting in a quickfire tempo, Chester - with Billy Singleton coming off the bench - closed the period with a 7-1 run to lead 19-18 but the Yorkshiremen started to truly ignite when their backcourt caught fire.

Tied at 30-30, a 9-2 Sharks breakaway would ultimately represent a decisive turn in the contest and with Calvin Davis in foul trouble, the BBL Cup winners took full advantage, building on their 44-38 half-time cushion with seven unanswered points at the outset of the fourth.

Jets lacked energy, Hamilton joining Davis on three fouls to undermine their side's strict rotation system. Nurse, on fire from long range, hit two treys in a 10-2 burst which reduced the deficit to five with 5:41 left in the quarter.

Paul Smith's men chipped away, pressing full court in a bid to unsettle their long-time rivals. Twice in two plays, they stripped Sheffield and duly punished, Nurse draining an improbable score from eight metres in a 7-0 run which left the Sharks just 56-55 ahead.

Rob Yanders stopped the rot with the final four points of the stanza but with the game finely poised, a fourth foul picked up by James Hamilton heaped more pressure on Chester's remaining Fab Five.

John McCord, the MVP of this game two years ago, tried his best to step up despite a heavily strapped leg but in a frenetic spell, Sheffield stole a 67-59 march which proved utterly invaluable.

With his team still nine in arrears with 2:21 left, Smith threw the last dice with a time-out but even his masters of the late fightback could not pull this one off, coming now closer than five as Hamilton fouled out 30 seconds later.

"It feels great," said Scantlebury. "This has been a long time coming for me but the guys played so well."

The Northgate side can spend the summer plotting a bid to defend their monopoly on the Trophy. Sheffield, despite their slippage in the league title race, go on holiday with smiles on their faces.


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