BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
| Antero Lehto was an influential figure in Tampereen Pyrintö's push to become Finnish champions |
Tampereen Pyrintö have completed an outstanding domestic season by defeating Kataja Basket 3-1 in the Korisliiga finals series to claim their third Finnish league title in five years.
The Tampere side had clinched first place in the Korisliiga regular season with a 38-6 record and earned home-court advantage throughout the post-season.
It came to good use in the semi-finals, as Pyrintö survived a thrilling five-game series with KTP Basket (Team TEHO Sport Kotka), a club that reached the EuroChallenge Last 16 earlier this year.
Four Pyrintö players scored in double digits in Game 5 to erase a fantastic effort by KTP's Ryan Ayers, who went 7-of-10 from three-point range and collected 25 points, lifting the Tampere team to a 79-67 win and into the finals.
At the same time, Kataja, who also participated in the EuroChallenge this year, were completing an upset of almost epic proportions over two-time defending champions Nilan Bisons, by prevailing 3-2 in the other semi-final series.
Kataja were trailing 59-51 with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter of Game 5, on the road, but two triples from Antti Kanervo instigated a 14-0 run which enabled them to completely turn the tables around and secure an 88-83 victory after overtime, as veteran Teemu Rannikko had 18 points and seven assists.
Pyrintö found it hard against a team that had just knocked out the reigning champions but held on to win Game 1 at home 79-72 and start the finals on the right foot, as BJ Raymond and Damon Williams combined for 40 points.
Alex Wesby was simply unstoppable in Game 2 however as he poured in 36 points on 8-of-13 from the floor and Ranniko added 16 points to propel Kataja to a 95-88 win in Game 2 at home.
That victory though was all that Kataja would get out of the finals.
The title series returned to Tampere for Game 3 and point guard Antero Lehto erupted for a game-high 23 points to pave the way for Pyrintö's most comfortable win in the play-offs, 81-62.
With their backs to the wall in Game 4, Kataja turned again to Wesby expecting another big display at home to even the series.
The veteran American certainly delivered the goods as he went 5-for-7 from beyond the three-point arc and collected a game-high 31 points, but Pyrintö were once again more pluralistic on offence and got 20 points from Williams and 16 from each of Raymond and Kelvin Lewis.
It proved enough for Pyrintö to clinch an 88-78 win on the road and celebrate their first league title since 2011, following two years of dominance by the Bisons in the Korisliiga.
"You are not winning championships without good players," commented Pyrintö head coach Pieti Poikola afterwards.
"Our players have been really committed during the entire season.
"We found a good role on the team for each player and every one of them carried it out the best they could.
"We had a great team spirit and sense of community among the players."
On behalf of Kataja, the experienced Ranniko acknowledged sportingly that Pyrintö were worthy champions this year.
"Pyrintö have been the best team throughout the season and in this series," the Finnish international said.
"They played at a high level all year and they deserve this win."