With the race to eighth heating up, both Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and Baskonia picked up valuable wins to keep their post-season aspirations alive.
However, Baskonia, standing in ninth place in the EuroLeague table, were not faring so well in their road game against Valencia with the hosts enjoying a 36-31 lead the break and taking a slender 55-53 advantage heading into the fourth quarter of a defensive-oriented clash.
Baskonia head coach Pedro Martinez was aware that eighth-placed Maccabi had won their road game against Anadolu Efes and that they needed to shift up the gears. And move up they did, levelling the game at 68-68 with five minutes left before a Marcelinho Huertas-led charge broke the game open when it mattered as they scored an 81-71 win over the reigning Liga Endesa champions.
“The important thing is the players played better in the second half,” said Martinez. “We passed better and made better defence, and I’m happy to beat a great team like Valencia.
“In the first half, we had some problems with our pick-and-roll defence, but we changed the tactics in the second half and I think it was a good decision for our team.”
The win marked a happy come back to Valencia for the 56-year-old tactician, who was returning after spending two years with Valencia, leading them to last season’s Liga Endesa title, the first league crown in their history.
Martinez though was focussed on the task at hand and is happy not to have lost ground on the eighth spot.
“We knew before the game that Maccabi won, and because of this, it was a very important win to stay close to eighth place,” he said. “It was very emotional for me to return here and I’m very grateful to the Valencia fans for the reception they gave me.”
Baskonia’s fourth-quarter surge was down to the veteran Brazilian Huertas, who led the way with 19 points, and his guidance was detrimental in Valencia’s cold spell in the final four minutes, where they were held scoreless, allowing the visitors to score the final 13 points.
“Another good performance, I’m happy we won, we needed the win,” said a humble Huertas.
“I feel comfortable playing in this court, I don’t know why, but it’s motivating I guess. We know we needed this win on the road, we have a bunch of games at home and we’ve got to be strong at home, but every win on the road can be huge for us in this fight for the Playoffs.”
That’s two wins in a row for Baskonia now, who have five games left in the regular season with four of them on their home court. The solitary away game being against already-eliminated rivals Barcelona.
The advantage seems to be with Baskonia at the moment but only time will tell how they react to the pressure.
(Written by Kostas Muralakis. John Hobbs contributed to the report)