BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Ploiesti head coach Vladimir Arnautovic lifting the Romanian championship trophy (photo: Mirela Oprea)|
CSU Asesoft Ploiesti have edged out CS Municipal Oradea 3-2 in the play-off finals of the Romanian LNB league to lift their third domestic champion trophy in a row and the 10th in the club's history.
The newly-crowned Romanian champions, who had clinched first place in the regular season standings, abolished their home-court advantage already in Game 1 of the title series, as they succumbed to an 105-93 defeat at home.
Ploiesti then cruised to a 95-76 win at home in Game 2 and re-gained the initiative with an 88-80 victory when the series moved to Oradea for Game 3, behind a 27-point display by Jermaine Flowers.
Oradea tied the series at 2-2 by prevailing 87-81 in Game 4 on the back of an inspirational performance by Romanian international Titus Nicoara, who collected a double-double of 21 points and 12 rebounds.
The Finals moved back to Ploiesti for the decisive fifth game of the series, which saw the two opponents trade baskets in a tremendously tight affair until late in the fourth quarter when the hosts finally pulled away thanks in great part to Oradea's inability to take care of the ball (14 turnovers, twice as many as Ploiesti.)
Ploiesti used a 9-1 run to gain a 97-88 lead with less than a minute left on the clock and celebrated a crucial 100-94 win and, consequently, perhaps the most hard-earned title in this sequence of three consecutive championships.
"It was so hard, we controlled the game reasonably well and got a 3-4 point lead a few times but Oradea is a very good team and they always had a response," commented Ploiesti head coach Vladimir Arnautovic.
"I expected them to make more mistakes than us and we stayed focused until the end and we won.
"They were great games with quality basketball and we want to play in the Eurocup next season."
Veteran guard Alhaji Mohammed paved the way for Ploiesti with a game-high 27 points, also adding seven boards and four assists, Finnish international Gerald Lee also made a key contribution and finished with 25 points and five rebounds, while Radovan Markovic had 21 points for Oradea in defeat.
Ploiesti's win held an even more special significance for their captain Catalin Burlacu, who has been a member of the team in each one of their ten campaigns that led to the championship crown.
"I wanted this title number ten so badly," said Burlacu, who had 15 points in Game 5.
"I would like to thank the entire team for their effort in the hotly disputed play-offs.
"Tonight, we prevailed in the end probably due to our experience, who had the final word.
"I feel happy, I am among the few Romanian players to have won ten league titles.
"Last but not least, thanks to these wonderful fans who showed up in strength to support us.
"I think we've proved once again that we are the best team in Romania."