With every game that passes, Montenegro, for me are looking more and more like a team that will do well at Eurobasket.
Last night’s game against Israel was a perfect example of that.
A team that sticks together, plays in a composed manner, even though there were 10,000 Israel fans booing and yelling everything under the sun at them. Tel-Aviv’s Nokia Arena was a hostile environment but Montenegro weathered the storm and when their backs were against the wall, they turned it round and walked away smiling.
Last night’s 81-76 success really should not have happened. Israel had the match won, for the majority of the fourth quarter, Montenegro looked like they were heading to their first defeat in a campaign which has seen them beat bitter neighbours Serbia in dramatic fashion in Belgrade.
There were 18,000 in the Belgrade Arena for that game too.
Israel were looking good for a win that would have put them them joint first with Montenegro and Serbia. A three from Omri Casspi gave his side a 75-72 lead with under two minutes to go. It seemed all the momentum was with the hosts and Montenegro looked out of sorts.
But, led by a sublime Vladimir Dasic, the Montenegrins hit back – and over the next 1:56 – the Israeli crowd lowered their tone. A stunned silence.
“This is a great win for us,” said a happy Luka Pavicevic, the head coach of Montenegro. “Our win in Belgrade surprised everyone. Our win here was different. We led the group and Israel really needed the win. We can’t say Israel didn’t play well tonight.”
One thing that Pavicevic congratulated his players on was having courage, which is a great way of summing up this win. It did take courage, they believed in themselves and carried on playing their game from tip to buzzer.
Montenegro were never hurried, never nervous, they looked like a top basketball nation worthy of going far in Slovenia a year from now.
If Montenegro advance to Slovenia, which now has around a 95 percent of happening, they will look to this game as the one that defined their route to Eurobasket. A game where they had their backs against the wall but showed great team spirit, first-class courage and with that, they looked like a team that would come away from Israel with a win.
And they did.