Monaco did it. The basketball players of Roca Team qualified for the Final Four of the Euroleague on Wednesday. They won the all-deciding fifth game in a blistering battle in the swirling Salle Gaston Médécin. This is probably the best result for a Monaco sports team since reaching the final of the Champions League in football. Roca Team will play Olympiakos on Friday, May 19 in Kaunas-Lithuania. The Greek side eliminated Monaco in the quarter-finals a year ago.
It was a great game with a lot of emotions but especially excellent basketball at times. Maccabi looked the winning side in this crucial match after three quarters but were totally surprised in the final quarter by an unleashed Roca Team, when the leader Mike James was out with an injury and his teammates seemed rudderless. But Jordan Loyd then took matters into his own hands and led his team to a historic victory, which will come as a shock in the EuroLeague.
It is a triumph for the club, which already won the EuroCup two years ago.
The first half saw a sensational run of two teams looking to attack as much as possible. Monaco seemed a little more tense due to the circumstances and in the first minutes Maccabi made a confident impression and quickly took a lead with three-pointers – 7-11 after two minutes. It took Roca Team a lot of effort to stay in the game but Mike James tied the game with some individual feats (17-17), but in the final minutes of the first quarter, the Israelis, led by Wade Baldwin, suddenly ran out of steam and led 33-26 after ten minutes.
In the second quarter, Roca Team started whirling and flamed Salle Gaston Médecin as it scored fifteen points in a row: 41-33 for Monaco. Maccabi got back up after these three minutes and fought its way back into the game and was especially successful with three-pointers and even took the lead again: 45-47.
The tension increased by the minute. But Monaco didn’t let up and took the lead in the closing stages of the first half, after two missed free throws by Baldwin : 53-49. Mike James was the MVP in that first half with 21 points, a record score in a EuroLeague-play-off match in this season.
After half-time, the game was tied but Monaco started to play more sloppily, threatening to lose control. Maccabi came back strong in the match. The score remained even, from 61-61 to 66-66.
Then the game seemed to take a dramatic turn as Mike James got injured and initially missed a lot of chances. Maccabi failed to take advantage of it. At the end of the third quarter, the excellently playing Jordan Loyd even ensured that Monaco took the lead again (72-70).
James returned in the final quarter but Monaco seemed to go down after more misses. The Israelis suddenly dominated the game and even took the lead again (76-79). A lack of energy and coolness seemed to break up coach Sasa Obradovic’s team at this decisive stage.
But at this very moment a brutal assist from Diallo on Moneke caused a psychological turnaround. In half a minute Jordan Loyd took the team in tow and suddenly Maccabi was caught off guard: 86-79. Monaco played the match on the waves of joy and won the victory in front of five thousand enthusiastic spectators, with Prince Albert as the biggest fan on the terrace: 97-86.
Roca Team had already won the Coupe de France before the matches against Maccabi and is still favourite to win the French championship for the first time in its existence, but reaching the Final Four is a huge result for the club and the country.
It is even the first team from the French league to reach the Final Four since 1997. France did only win once the EuroLeague (Limoges in 1993).
PHOTO: Maybe the one man who saved the game for Monaco, Jordan Loyd