When FC Bayern Munich forward Vladimir Lucic completed a four-point play to forge a 77-77 tie with 2 minutes left on Friday night, a brand-new game was born at the Astroballe in France.
Having amassed an 18-point lead midway through the third period, host LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne seemed to have lost all momentum against a Bayern team that has snatched late victories all season long, the last against archrival ALBA Berlin in Round 24 after overcoming a 16-point deficit.
This time, however, ASVEL didn't let Bayern decide. Just when they seemed to be in the most trouble, the French champs surged anew to an 87-79 victory.
"The difference, comparing it to the beginning of the season, is that we don't panic the same way," said center Moustapha Fall, who had 15 points and 9 rebounds. "They can come back but we stayed calm. We knew what to do and that's how we got the win."
A key to finding that calm was Norris Cole. The two-time NBA champion point guard played a decisive role in crunch time, right after Lucic got it all square, scoring 8 of ASVEL's 10 points in those last 2 minutes.
First, Cole restored ASVEL's lead with a contested off-the-drive left-handed layup. He then assisted Fall for an easy bucket and later contributed 4 consecutive free throws to put the game on ice, 85-79, with 15 seconds left. Overcoming a slow start in which he needed 15 minutes to get his first basket, Cole was ready when ASVEL needed him most.
The fact that ASVEL didn't need Cole to dominate the game until then speaks volumes about how much this team has grown up in recent weeks.
To get its fifth straight win, the longest such streak by a French team in EuroLeague history, ASVEL led fifth-place Bayern in almost every statistical category, with sizeable differences in performance index rating (119 to 67), three-pointers made (10 to 5), three-point accuracy (67% to 36%), free throws made (23 to 12), steals (9 to 5) and blocks (3-0). All of it added up to the only decisive stat, an 87-79 difference in points.
"We deserved this win," head coach T.J. Parker said after. "We made stop after stop, we managed to make some big baskets, to draw fouls, get to the free throw line and make free throws, and that made the difference."
As such, ASVEL remains unbeaten for more than a month, since January 19, and continues dreaming of higher goals.
"We have to take one game at a time; it's all that we can do", said David Lighty, who led his team with 19 points. "We didn't start as good as we wanted for the EuroLeague season, so I think right now we are kind of getting the rhythm. Everybody is in a good flow, so we just need to keep it going."