Honka retain Finnish basketball title after tight final series
Espoo Blues may have fallen to Kärpät at the last hurdle in the ice hockey play-offs, but Honka of Espoo collected their second successive Finnish basketball championship on Sunday after a gripping best-of-five series of matches. They emerged 3-1 winners over Kouvot from Kouvola.
Aside from the first match, which Honka won 79-71 in Kouvola, the games were all nail-bitingly close.
Honka edged the second encounter at home 70-68 and Kouvot hung on after squandering a big lead to take the third game 67-66 and keep their hopes alive, before Honka won 72-71 on Sunday evening.
Star of the show in the fourth and final match was Akeem Scott, who delivered when it counted with a two-pointer 3.3 seconds before the buzzer, when Honka were 70-71 down and staring at a fifth match in Kouvola.
Scott, deservedly MVP on the night, had a hugely productive game of it, scoring 36 points or half of the Honka total.
At the start of the season, the defending champions from Espoo were among the favourites to retain their hold on the Panther Trophy, so in a sense it came as no great shock that they went all the way.
However, there were a good many surprising obstacles along the route.
Although the team contained a clutch of players from the victorious 2006-2007 squad, injuries to key members of the team during the regular season led to some unexpected defeats and in February one of their foreign imports left to play in Poland and another was suspended for using cannabis.
Suddenly Honka were in some trouble, and whilst the return (from Switzerland) of former stalwart Matt Williams at Xmas and the arrival of Akeem Scott and Ben Perkins to fill the two February gaps righted the ship, point guard Petteri Koponen then fractured his thumb in the semi-finals against regular season winners and eventual bronze medallists Lappeenranta.
Koponen was more or less unavailable for the finals - he made only an 8-minute cameo appearance in the very last game.
This was the thirteenth time the Finnish championship came to Espoo, and the seventh victory for the current incarnation of Honka.
It was also the fifth Finnish title for Serbian-born coach Mihailo Pavicevic, who has been in charge for eight years and enjoys an enviable record of winning whenever the team make the final.
Matt Williams also seems to be a more than useful talisman to have on your roster: this was his fourth successive Finnish champions’ medal. He did the trick with Lappeenranta in 2005 and 2006, and now back-to-back in 2007 and 2008 with Honka.
Espoo Honka (site in Finnish)
Korisliiga, Finland´s top basketball league