BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Janis Timma was named LBL finals MVP|
BK Ventpils have brought VEF Riga's three-year reign in the Latvian Aldaris LBL to an end by defeating their arch-rivals 4-1 in the play-off finals to win their first domestic championship title since 2009.
This was the record-ninth league trophy to enter the trophy case of Ventspils, a club which has been a mainstay of the EuroChallenge in recent years and reached the Last 16 of the European competition this season.
All nine of Ventspils's LBL crowns came after the turn of the century and their head coach, Roberts Stelmahers, has now joined the club of those who have won the championship both as a player and as a coach.
Janis Timma of Ventspils was voted as the MVP of the play-offs after averaging 13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game during the post-season, while the young forward averaged 10 points, a team-high 7.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in the title series.
While Riga had breezed past Jūrmala/ Fēnikss 3-0 in the play-off semi-finals, Ventspils encountered considerable resistance by BK Jēkabpils and eventually prevailed in five games to reach the title series.
Once the finals got under way however, Ventspils immediately dispelled all concerns by making a statement in Game 1.
Playing at home, they started pulling away from Riga during the second quarter to enjoy a convincing 90-61 rout of their arch-rivals, behind 15 points from Willie Kemp and 13 points from Lorenzo Williams.
Riga received the message and reacted in Game 2 in the capital, clinching an 82-69 win on the back of a 20-point display from Latvian international Rihards Kuksiks.
Having tied the series at 1-1, Riga appeared ready to snatch away the home-court advantage in Game 3 back in Ventspils, when they jumped to a 36-30 lead at the half-time buzzer.
But Ventspils turned the tabled midway through the third frame when Janis Timma with a lay-up and Artjoms Butjankovs from the free throw line brought them ahead, 49-47.
As Sandis Valters and Ronalds Zakis stepped up in the clutch, the hosts managed to hold on until the final buzzer and clinch an important 69-61 win.
Not content with preserving their home-court advantage, Ventspils delivered the decisive blow in Game 4, on the road.
Timma, who finished with a near triple-double of 11 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, helped Ventspils to take a firm grip on the encounter right from the start and leave the capital with a fantastic 89-75 victory, that gave them a 3-1 lead in the series.
Riga appeared somewhat demoralised by that result and when the series returned to Ventspils for the Game 5, the hosts established a double-digit cushion, 39-28, by the half-time interval and cruised the rest of the way to a comfortable 81-59 win to celebrate their first league title in five years.
It was however, their second major piece of silverware in the past two seasons, having last season become the first Latvian team to win the Baltic Basketball League (BBL).