Sports can be so strange. And depending on your standpoint, so exciting or so cruel.
LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne fell into the latter category on Wednesday night, because the French team must have headed away from the Mercedes-Benz Arena wondering exactly how it managed to lose its Round 9 matchup against ALBA Berlin.
ASVEL, after all, had dominated nearly the whole game. After scoring the first 4 points of the contest, the visiting team had everything pretty much under control for practically 40 minutes. ALBA briefly lead, 29-28, for 23 seconds in the middle of the second quarter, but otherwise, ASVEL was in front all the way. Towards the end, several of those leads looked decisive. It was 50-60 at the end of the third quarter, 50-63 with just over 8 minutes remaining, 58-66 with 4 minutes on the clock, 62-70 inside the last 3 minutes and 70-74 with just 15 seconds remaining, following a three-point play by Allerik Freeman which was celebrated – understandably – as though it was the game-winner.
The main reason for all those leads was ASVEL’s giant big man Moustapha Fall, who produced the best individual performance so far in this Turkish Airlines EuroLeague this season. He threw down dunk after dunk on his way to a career-high 25 points, completed a double-double with 10 rebounds, and even found time to dish 4 assists on the way to a PIR of 42 – the highest so far this season and the best by a pure center since Ioannis Bourousis bagged a PIR of 44 for Baskonia in October 2015.
ALBA, however, would not give up. Despite never getting to grips with Fall, never really finding its passing rhythm and committing 18 turnovers, never really finding its shooting stroke and missing far more field goals (32) than it converted (25), and losing the rebounding battle (33-35), ALBA just kept on believing that victory could still be claimed. And so, in the end, it could. Even when it trailed by 4 points with 15 seconds remaining, ALBA refused to go quietly and struck a three-pointer from Niels Giffey – his first of the night – to get within a point. Then ASVEL’s Antoine Diot split his free throws, giving ALBA 6.8 seconds to win it with a three-pointer or force a tie from close-range. And that’s when it got really strange.
Peyton Siva, who had been out of action for a month after contracting the COVID-19 virus, found himself in the thick of the action against, as he admitted later, even his own expectations. He received the ball on the perimeter, took a dribble, pump-faked to buy himself half a yard, and sent a perfectly placed shot dropping effortlessly through the hoop.
Siva made it look as easy as though he’d been draining threes all night, whereas he had in fact missed five in a row and had not made a long-range shot in any kind of gameplay since 16 October against CSKA Moscow. Yet this one he made and all that remained was for Guerschon Yabusele to miss a desperation shot for ASVEL on the final buzzer, and ALBA – despite leading for just 25 seconds out of the 40 minutes – had somehow, against all the odds, won the game.
So strange. So exciting. So cruel.