BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Trenton Meacham and Nanterre were crowned champions in France after an incredible play-off run |
No matter what happens in leagues around Europe that are yet to conclude, newly crowned French champions Nanterre can rest assured that they have been responsible for the biggest surprise of the season in the continent.
Nanterre, a club that only returned to the French top flight in 2011 and finished the Pro A Regular Season in eighth place, defeated favourites Strasbourg 83-77 on Saturday night to clinch the play-off Finals series 3-1 and claim the first Pro A league title in club history.
The fact that the eventual champions bounced back to win three straight encounters against second-placed Strasbourg, one of them on the road, after losing Game 1 in the series by a devastating 34-point margin, is not even their biggest achievement in this post-season.
In order to earn their shot at the title, Nanterre first swept Regular Season winners and EuroChallenge semi-finalists BCM Gravelines Dunkerque in the quarter-finals; they then proceeded by inflicting a similar shock to reigning champions Chalon/Saone, in their semi-final series.
When they lost that first game in the finals, many believed natural order had finally been restored.
The Nanterre coaching staff and players thought otherwise and just two days later, again in Strasbourg, they surprised their hosts 84-79 to gain the home-court advantage in the series and then made the most of it by winning the following the next two games at home.
"I find it hard to realise what has just happened, it will take some time," Nanterre head coach Pascal Donnadieu admitted to sport24.com after Saturday's triumph.
"I had set as a rule to not think about winning the title, to just stay focused on what happens on the court until the last second so right now obviously it is a bit difficult for it to sink in.
"It's been over a month that we have been living in a dream. It started with the victory at Gravelines, in the quarter-finals.
"Since then we have accumulated performances like that and great moments of communion as a team and with the fans when we played at home.
"I remember one more thing, perhaps a bit pretentious for once, that we won the game thanks to the quality of our collective.
"For a coach, to be able to rely on a group, to ensure that his players play as one, it's obviously very satisfying," a still over-the-moon Donnadieu added.
Nanterre played their two home games in the Finals at Stade Pierre de Coubertin in Paris, rather than their usual home arena in the outskirts of the French capital, in order to satisfy demand from their fans.
In the deciding Game 4, pressure seemed to weigh heavy on their shoulders at the start, as they scored only 14 points in the opening frame and Strasbourg took a five-point lead.
The hosts however stepped up and produced an explosive second quarter, in which they outscored their opponents 26-17 to take control of the clash and while they did not manage to pull away and build a double-digit cushion, they never abolished the lead until the final buzzer.
Winger David Lighty, who was named MVP of the Finals, led the way for Nanterre with 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the floor and added three rebounds and two assists, while 22-year-old French point guard Jérémy Nzeulie went three-for-five from three-point range and finished with 17 points and Chris Warren had 13.
Romain Duport collected a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds in defeat for Vincent Collet's team.