BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Stefan Markovic has done a remarkable job in distributing the ball, but could not prevent Valencia from crashing out of the play-offs |
A Belgian and a Serbian point guard whose contributions are often overlooked by the media made headlines in the Spanish Liga Endesa, Europe's top domestic league, on Wednesday.
Sam Van Rossom of CAI Zaragoza and Stefan Markovic of Valencia Basket were included in the 'Best Five' of the Spanish play-off quarter-finals, along with Slovenian international Erazem Lorbek of FC Barcelona Regal, Regular Season MVP Nikola Mirotic of Real Madrid and Ryan Toolson of Herbalife Gran Canaria.
Markovic dished out the most assists in the first round of the post-season, eight per game on average, while Van Rossom made all 17 of his shots from the free throw line, some of them crucial, as he averaged a team-high 14.3 points at this stage of the competition.
Only the Belgian however could fully enjoy the accolade on Wednesday, as Markovic and his team were on the wrong end of one of the two surprises in the quarter-finals.
Zaragoza, which had finished in fifth place in the Regular Season, upset fourth placed Valencia and clinched a place in the semi-finals despite losing the first game of the best-of-three series with a shocking 80-42.
Van Rossom's team had the lowest offensive output in the history of the ACB play-offs in that encounter, but bounced back in the most spectacular fashion in Game 2.
They edged out Valencia 122-120 in triple overtime at home, establishing the biggest margin of improvement (a whopping 80 points) on the offensive end ever seen between two consecutive post-season games by any team.
"It was one of those days when everything seems so easy and the basket looked not even like a swimming pool, but more like the Atlantic Ocean," Van Rossom, who finished with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists, said after that historic game.
The combined 242 points by the two opponents was also the biggest score in the ACB in the last 26 years and the biggest ever in a play-off game of the competition, with the previous record set all the way back in 1986.
Zaragoza then completed the comeback by claiming an 83-77 win on the road on Tuesday night and knocking Valencia out of the Spanish title race.
They have become the first team to reach the league semi-finals with their debut appearance in the play-offs in their current form, despite losing to injury the player who led the team in scoring and rebounding during the Regular Season, Dutch international Henk Norel.
|Sam Van Rossom and Zaragoza will face Real Madrid in the semi-finals |
Van Rossom, who turns 27 next Monday, led his national team in points and assists per game during last summer's Qualification Round, when Belgium clinched a spot in September's EuroBasket.
Fellow Belgian international Axel Hervelle, who also plays in Spain for Uxue Bilbao, had commented to fibaeurope.com that Van Rossom 'plays at an incredible level right now' and warned that opponents at the EuroBasket would be wrong to underestimate his potential.
The 25-year-old Markovic has been a senior Serbian international since 2007 and although he missed out on last summer's Qualification Round, he is expected to assume an even more protagonistic role in the team at EuroBasket 2013 should the injured Milos Teodosic be unable to participate.
In the biggest surprise in the Spanish quarter-finals, Gran Canaria defeated Laboral Kutxa 72-66 on the road on Tuesday to eliminate the second placed team of the Regular Season from the play-offs and reach a first semi-final appearance in their history.
The islanders will take on FC Barcelona, which edged out Bilbao 2-1, in one semi-final series while Van Rossom's Zaragoza will clash with Regular Season winners Real Madrid in the other, starting on Thursday.