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Tuesday, 25 June 2019 14:32 Written by Jian Lan
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Knights Bring Home the Holy Grail

2024 OBWL Playoff MVP Jean Larry was the backbone of a remarkable defensive effort that helped the London Knights claim their second Heikkinen Cup.

Entering the season the London Knights were one of the favorites to win the Heikkinen Cup. After 80 games and 4 rounds of playoffs, the Knights proved that the pundits were correct and are once again champions. It wasn't all smooth sailing as the club spent the early parts of the season incorporating prized acquisition, Colby Allan, and several younger players to the team. Tensions also flared as Jose Owens showed up for the season having packed on an extra few pounds. He was subsequently relegated to the bench. Above all the impeding free agency of superstar Jean Larry and, to a lesser extent, Colby Allan loomed above HSBC Palace. There were even talks of dismantling the roster and resetting the franchise. Instead the team came together and the rest is now OBWL history. Allan and Val Crumley formed one of the best backcourts in the league, both getting selected as All Stars. Owens flourished off the bench and averaged career highs in minutes (28.9) and points (22.4). And Larry was Larry, one of the best defenders to ever play the game. Everything fell in place for London. They even brought back Zackary Stubbs, a former Knight from yesteryears that was a fan favorite.

The Knights finished 63-17, tying the franchise record for wins. There were 2 other times in history that the team won 60+ games, one ended in the conference finals and the other as champions. London was hitting its stride heading into the postseason, having won 9 of 10 games. Their first round opponent was the Minnesota Marauders. The Marauders were having a resurgent year under rookie GM Jason Rouse. Despite the Knights sweeping the regular season, the upset-minded Marauders thought they matched up well and would give London a much better fight than what the records indicated. They were right. Power forward Tony Pence was moved to center to avoid Larry and Joey Short was lights out from the perimeter. Games 1 and 2 followed a similar script as the home team jumped out to a lead and held off the visitors. Both games were decided by less than 10 points. With the victories too close for comfort, the Knights inserted Owens into the starting lineup as the schedule moved to Minnesota. The move worked as London won comfortably. Game 4 saw Larry assert himself as he dropped a triple double and powered the Knights into the second round. Though the Marauders were swept it was clear that they are a team on the rise and will challenge for dominance in the near future.

In the second round London met a familiar foe, the 4th seeded Arizona Thunderbirds. The two conference rivals faced each other in the playoffs during the Knights back to back Finals appearance. Both times the Knights ended Arizona's season. Motivation was high for the Thunderbirds. The first game was a nail bitter as the visitors prevailed 106-104. London thought nothing of it and that it was just "luck". But instead the Thunderbirds showed how good they were and pounded the Knights by 27 points in Game 2. London's All Star backcourt was bottled up and had no answer to Arizona's perimeter assault. Inexplicitly the home team forgot how to defend and allowed the Tbirds to shoot 50% and make 10 of 19 3-point attempts. Game 3, the team traveled to Arizona hoping a change of scenery would improve their game. It was not to be as they were once again run off the court; this time by 24 points in front of a raucous crowd chanting "OVERRATED". Down 0-3, London was embarrassed and dominated on all fronts. With one game left the coaching staff went for broke and inserted rookie Gerald Stubblefield in place of Owens and shortened the bench to Thomas Grundy, Truman Kaplan and Owens, and switched Crumley back to PG with Allan at SG. It was the "Ugly Defense" lineup. If they were going to lose, the team was going to go away fighting tooth and nail, enough with trying to fly with the Birds. It worked surprisingly well as the Knights came back from an early deficit to force Game 5. Heading back to London the team gained a little of their confidence back and took an early lead that held throughout the game. The high powered Arizona offense was once again held in check. With the series at 3-2, the pressure was off and the road team jumped out to a big lead and never looked back. Game 7 shifted back to London. The home fans were fired up and the Knights won going away. It was the first time in team history they had come back down 0-3.

"That was an amazing series. Arizona is one of the best teams in the league. Their offense is just incredible and their defense shut us down. Earlier on, we had problems in keeping up with them and closing out on shooters. Down 0-3, we were all in shock but we never stopped believing. Shout out to my man HW! I don't know if he's retiring but he's one of the greats. Hall of Famer for sure." said Crumley

In the conference finals the team faced the Toronto Huskies and the greatest player in league history, Charles Flowers. The teams met once before in the playoffs with Flowers dominating Larry in leading the Huskies to a 4-1 series win on their way to the Finals. This was a rematch that the Knights and Larry in particular have been secretly hoping for. Flowers, reigning and winner of 5 MVPs, vs Larry, reigning and winner of 5 DMVPs. The aged old question of what happens when an unstoppable force meet an immovable object was once again discussed. Like last time only 5 games were needed for an answer. This time around the unstoppable force was halted. Larry held Flowers to 38% shooting and a pedestrian 21 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks. For the series Larry averaged 13 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks.

"I really wanted this matchup. You know, he's the best player to ever step on the court. I don't think there's going to be another like him. When we hang up our laces, history's going to judge him as the greatest. Ever. And rightfully so. Chuck got me good last time. I I NEEDED to pay him back. I just figured we're even now. But if he wants to run it back and go best of 3, I'll be waiting." said Larry

In the Finals, London faced the surprising Kentucky Stallions who had one of the most impressive playoff runs in league history. The Stallions knocked off the top seeded Kansas City Pioneers and defending OBWL champion St Louis Sun Kings, taking both series to 7 games and winning on the road. While fans and experts expected a quick series and the Knights were heavily favored, London was not taking them lightly. Game 1 saw the Knights pull away in the 2nd half and winning by 20. But something did not feel right. Sure enough the Stallions came back and won Game 2 by 12 points. Andrew Jackson caught fire and detonated for 40 points. Concerns started to set in for London. Kentucky won both Game 2s in their upsets of Kansas City and St Louis. Once again Stubblefield was inserted into the starting lineup and the team won a closely contested Game 3. Game 4 saw another lineup change for the Knights. This time Allan was benched to allow Kaplan to play PG alongside Crumley. Allan was struggling against the Stallions backcourt and the hope was he fared better against the backups to get his shooting touch back. At the same time London was having a difficult time defending the perimeter and Kaplan was one of the best on-ball defenders for the team. In winning Game 4 the Knights held Kentucky to 33% shooting on 3-point attempts, the first time in the series that the Stallions were held under 40%.  London followed that up by holding them to 11% in Game 5 as the Knights won their second championships in team history.

"First off, congratulations to Kentucky and their incredible playoff run. I don't think we've seen anything like it before. They truly shocked the league. Shep is building a winner and this is their coming out party. For us, its been amazing. There were all sorts of rumors flying around early in the seasons but we were able to overcome that and be a team. We couldn't have accomplished this without each and every one of our players, coaches, staff and of course the support of our fans. I'm most happy for Zack. Fans remember him from his earlier days with the team when it was bad. Its great that he was able to be a part of this and contribute to us winning. London we did it again!" said GM Lan.


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