CHESHIRE PHOENIX suffered late heartbreak in their quest to become British champions.

London Lions retained their crown as the British Basketball League play-off champions with a thrilling 88-85 win over Phoenix at The O2 Arena.

Sam Dekker iced the game for London with his three-pointer with less than 10 seconds left on the clock, topping off his final MVP performance.

Phoenix were down by double digits for much of the first half, but dogged defence from Laquincy Rideau helped steer them back into the game. Rideau finished with 20 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, while Aaryn Rai supplied 21 of Phoenix’s points.

However, more positive Phoenix news has arrived with Ben Thomas being named as the BBL’s coach of the year.

Thomas has gained the award after guiding Cheshire Phoenix to the most successful season of the club’s era.

Coach Thomas steered Nix to a second-placed finish in the British Basketball League Championship, trailing only London, and led them to victory over the Lions in the BBL Trophy final back in January – a win many consider to be one of the most memorable in league history.

Thomas was a boyhood fan of the Phoenix in the days they were known as the Chester Jets and initially took over the position of head coach on an interim basis towards the end of the 2016/17 season, before being appointed full-time from the start of the following campaign.

Since then, Cheshire have won three major honours and been runners-up twice more, featuring in the last three Trophy finals in succession.

A previous best championship finish of fourth in the Phoenix era - since 2012 - was achieved by former head coach John Coffino in 2014, but Thomas has exceeded that this season by finishing second.

With a roster of players mostly lacking in experience at the professional level prior to this season, including three rookies and three second-year professionals, Cheshire have surpassed all external expectations with their performances this year, with a unique brand of basketball combined with shrewd recruitment, making the Phoenix a real force.

Thomas told the BBL website: “Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who voted for me to win this award, I really appreciate it. Individual awards in a team game are a strange thing really, and I do believe that our team as a collective has enabled me to be recognised for this award.

“I would like to thank the players for buying in and putting our team identity and style of play on show all season long. I must thank the club management for giving me the tools and resources needed to compete at a high level throughout the season.

“Our support staff are the best in the business and looking after our players from a health and welfare standpoint must be a priority, so I must acknowledge their contribution as well.

“I would like to thank James Brice for managing the team but also being on the sidelines with me every game and his contribution is greatly appreciated. And lastly, Tom Fletcher – for everyone who doesn’t know he’s ‘the guy with the laptop’, but he is much more than that. We wouldn’t have the team of players we have without his help and his ability to help put game plans together from a data perspective is what assists... our success.”