|14 March 2013|
|Antoine Diot cam up with the decisive steal for Paris Levallois in Game 1|
The match-up between Paris Levallois and Pinar Karsiyaka was billed as the most balanced EuroChallenge quarter-final play-off series, yet when the French side won Game 1 on Tuesday, it came as a big shock.
Not because the Parisians are not a team perfectly capable of winning such a big game, not even because Karsiyaka had never lost at home throughout the Regular Season and the Last 16.
The 76-74 triumph of Paris in Izmir on Tuesday was not surprising as an outcome in itself, but rather because of the way it came about.
The final quarter in particular, almost defied basketball conventional wisdom.
It was then when the French team's coach, Christophe Denis, decided to go small, really small.
He fielded four perimeter players, Andrew Albicy (1.78m), Antoine Diot (1.92m), John Cox (1.96m) and Julius Hodge (2.01m) alongside Louis Labeyrie who, despite his height, is more of a mobile power forward than a post player.
Denis's move came partly out of necessity and partly as a last-ditch attempt to shuffle the cards in a game where the guests were trailing by nine points with less than five minutes left on the clock.
Three Karsiyaka frontcourt players, play-offs Game 1 MVP William Thomas, Abdul Aminu and Ümit Sonkol had wreaked havoc in the French paint all night, finishing with a combined 51 points.
With power forward Jawad Williams still not back from injury and center Sean May picking up a knock in the third quarter that kept him out of the rest of the game, Paris had resigned to their hosts' dominance on the glass.
They still declined to accept they had lost the game though, and their small and mobile line-up hassled the hosts, clouded their judgement and forced them to commit inexplicable at times mistakes, like the inbound pass by Caner Topaloglu straight into the arms of Diot 14 seconds from the final buzzer.
The Karsiyaka small forward had little choice but to immediately foul the French guard and Diot kept his cool from the free-throw line to seal victory for his team.
The undersized team option performed a minor miracle for Paris on Tuesday, but is a scenario that is unlikely to play out again in Game 2 on Thursday.
It cannot work out this effectively for long stretches of time, definitely not throughout the entire 40 minutes against a frontcourt as potent as Karsiyaka's, so if it was repeated in the space of just 48 hours, it would be an extremely rare occurrence.
One can be certain that, if given the choice on Thursday, coach Denis will instantly revert back to a more conventionally-sized five and keep them on the court for as long as possible.
May is an hour-to-hour decision and his participation will practically be determined during warm-up, while Williams will probably be on the bench and there is a small chance of him reappearing after a three-week long absence.
In addition to the French team's resilience, which Karsiyaka have obviously no control over, there are some factors that tipped the balance in Paris' favour on Tuesday, and the Turkish side's coach Ufuk Sarica will probably focus on preventing from occurring again.
The Game 2 visitors will have little chance of levelling the series and forcing a third game back home unless they remember how they used to play defence up until a few days ago.
On Tuesday, they allowed the Paris perimeter players to take the lane repeatedly and even when they closed down, the French guards almost always had the luxury of kicking out the ball to an unmarked team-mate on the wing.
Another aspect that the Izmir outfit coach will have to correct in such a short period of time is his team's reaction in the clutch, when Paris not only keep their calm but also turn it up a notch.
Karsiyaka's 15 turnovers on Tuesday do not seem excessive, but they made a series of wrong choices when it most mattered and when they simply had a nine-point lead to protect and no hurry whatsoever.
"We lost the game when we thought we had won," Sarica said after Game 1.
"We made many simple mistakes that shouldn't be done by a team on the way to the Final Four."
On Thursday, they will either redeem themselves for those mistakes and get back on track, or Paris will clinch that Final Four ticket instead.