CHAMPIONSHIP CHARGE: Finals MVP Andre Lockhart (below right) driving by Ramon Simmons.
THAT SURE was easy.
Pan American International Insurance Warrens couldn’t have found a more fitting cap to one of basketball’s biggest turnarounds, ruthlessly ousting Orange 3 Pinelands via Thursday’s 76-60 Game 4 rout to capture the Co-operators General Insurance Premier League crown at the Wildey Gym.
The eventual celebration was a surprisingly muted one, especially for a deeply talented roster that at one point didn’t look like challenging for the title, far less a playoff spot, after losing their first four games of the season.
But they certainly rebounded like no team before them, winning 15 of the next 19 including a remarkable 5-2 record in the postseason that resulted in Warrens’ second championship in four years.
Yet the margin of victory is even more impressive, particularly in the shockingly lopsided finals where Warrens blasted the defending champs by an average of 20 points en route to the 3-1 series victory.
“Yeah, it was surprising because they’re really a good team and we never thought we would win like this,” said head coach Ianthum Alleyne.
“I must admit we won quite comfortably, though, because even the game we lost, we felt we threw that away more than they won it. I think, though, they concentrated more on trying to play physical instead of just playing basketball.”
But that physical brand of basketball never favoured the Pine, as Warrens were the ones who adjusted to the referees’ emphasis of “letting the games play” all series long.
So rattled were Pinelands at the number of calls that they collectively lost their cool while four different players accounted for five unsportsmanlike fouls in a classless display from a champion side surrendering its crown.
Ramon Simmons was even ejected for picking up his second such infraction as the Pine delivered one hard foul after another with the game well in hand during the second half.
It was the only retaliation the stunningly listless Pinelands could offer while Warrens ran them off the floor in one of the most anticlimactic second-half finishes to a close-out contest.
Clinging to a late 30-28 lead in the second quarter, Warrens forward Dario Cumberbatch finished the half with a huge and-one drive, before scoring three straight free throws on the other side of the break.
Manuel Alleng added a jumper and Pearson Griffith scored on a hook shot, until finals MVP Andre Lockhart found Peter Alleyne wide open for the backbreaking trey (48-38).
The game then got out of hand – and out of Pinelands’ reach – as Halley Franklyn needlessly hit Lockhart after boxing him out at the free throw line, and then Jeremy Gill followed with another unsportsmanlike foul by knocking Lockhart out of bounds.
In all, Lockhart scored seven straight free throws before finding George Farrell on a backdoor cut to put Warrens up by 18 (58-40).
Farrell wasn’t done there either, avoiding shot-blocking forward Charles Vanderpool on a nifty up-and-under lay-up prior to Lockhart sealing the deal on a long three-point bomb (68-49).
It was all too similar to the first quarter where Warrens put the clamps on Pinelands’ offence to fuel a transition attack that opened a fast and furious 16-2 lead.
Griffith was primarily at the centre of that surge, turning back four shots in the quarter while Lockhart continued to play shut down defence on the injured Gill.
Pinelands did rally though, with Vanderpool and Junior Moore scoring jumpers as part of an initial 17-7 run that got them within four (23-19).
They even got as close as two (30-28) despite two missed calls that led to Simmons and Gill ending up on their backs on successive possessions.
Cumberbatch finished with 17 points, Lockhart scored 16, while Griffith had six points, nine rebounds and eight blocks. Simmons led the Pine with 18 points, while Gill had 11.