Honka was incredibly close to Finnish basketball championship celebrations in game-4 in Lahti on Saturday. Honka had two opportunities of seizing the victory, but they muffed their chances in a thriller that stretched to two overtimes. Substitute Toni Ilmonen did his bit to make sure Lahti’s season didn’t end on Saturday. Ilmonen’s last second three pointer took the game to yet a second overtime, on which Lahti quickly built up an eight-point margin and gave the home crowd reason for jubilation.
The match was even until the half time, when Honka shifted to another gear and seemed to be heading for the championship. Before the last quarter, the Espoo-based team had a secure-feeling 16-point lead (49-65). Namika Lahti, lead by their captain Juha Luhtanen (23/6), who was forced to play with his thigh under anesthesia, started on a hot pursuit, and with Honka, maybe subconsciously, pretty sure of their victory, a nice kettle of fish was cooking. Suddenly, Honka’s offense lost all its poise and they were able to score a measly six points on the last quarter. Lahti’s defense made sure the opponents couldn’t get any open shots. Just a couple of seconds before the end of regulation game Teemu Laine (20/9/6 steals) drove through Honka’s defense and lifted his team to a 71-71 tie.
The first overtime looked good for Honka. One minute left on the clock and the gap was seven points (74-81), but the home team wasn’t going to let them off the hook this easy. Demetrius Cherry (24/10), Teemu Laine and again Toni Ilmonen, on the last second, took turns in successful three-point shots and the game was again tied 85-85. The home team was the last crew standing on the second overtime, which they won with the final score 104-93.
Where as Lahti had a whole handful of heroes, can Honka’s players be commended only for those moments they actually put their skills into some use. At those moments Markus Hemdahl (12/11), Roope Mäkelä (21/10), Lonnie Cooper (14/8/6 steals/6 assists), Damian Owens (17/6), Jukka Matinen /12/4) and Martti Kuisma (17/1) all deserve praises for their performances. In the decisive moments they just lost it and the whole team seemed to crawl on all fours. Some credit for this has of course be given to Lahti’s defense.
Honka will take new shot at the championship tomorrow, when the incredible climax for the 2002 season will be played on LänsiAuto Arena, starting at 5 p.m..