Our sports-writer from Finland sends this recap of the Honka Playboy season and an assessment of Petteri Koponen's progress and prospects:
Honka Playboys wins Finnish championship, injured Koponen plays the last quarter of deciding Game 4
's Finnish NBA prospect went down with a broken thumb in Finnish league semifinals, but that didn't Koponen's Honka Playboys in game 4 of the semifinals. Honka thumped FIBA EuroCup team Portland out of its way easily with a deciding 81-61 victory and proceeded to the Finnish League finals against Kouvolan Kouvot, the best defensive team in the league and winners of 18 out of last 19 games. Lappeenranta
Many observers thought Honka would be in trouble without Koponen (playoff averages 19 points, 6 assists), because the team didn't have a true point guard in the roster. Former High Point Panther, 6-1" Akeem Scott had to take the point guard duties, although he had mostly played off-guard after joining Honka. The reserves didn't help that much either, because 6-4" Anselmi Vanjoki hadn't yet played a minute in the league and 6-2" Sasu Salin was 16 years old and just played his first year in the league.
Kouvot made things hard for Honka with their rottweiller defence in the finals. But throughout the series, Honka had notable size and experience advantage. Akeem Scott's playmaking wasn't a thing of beauty, but he had the intangibles to get the job done. He broke down Kouvot defence in games 2 and 4 with his streetball touch, taking it to the hole strong and even shooting effectively from outside.
Honka opened the series winning game one 79-71 (Kimmo Muurinen 22/7, Ben Perkins 19/4, Matthew Williams 14/4, Akeem Scott 12/1/7 assists) after a hard-fought battle. Kouvot was just three points behind when Matt Williams netted a three-pointer, which Kouvot never recovered from.
, Honka was able to snatch a 70-68 win (Akeem Scott 20/1, Jukka Matinen 20/4, Matthew Williams 15/5, Kimmo Muurinen 13/8) with Akeem Scott scoring Honka's last seven points in less than two minutes. Kouvot opened the game with an 18-4-lead, with only national team sharpshooter Jukka Matinen being able to fight back. Ultimately, Honka was more experienced and Scott had a hot hand in the end. Espoo
In game 3, Kouvot took 49-30 lead in front of noisy home crowd. Honka turned on their defensive intensity and climbed back, taking a 65-66 lead with Kimmo Muurinen's 3pt shot with less than ten seconds to go. Kouvot forward Corey Smith scored on a layup, putting Kouvot up 67-66, and just two seconds later, Akeem Scott turned the ball over after a traveling call. (Akeem Scott 19/1/7 turnovers, Ben Perkins 18/3, Kimmo Muurinen 15/9).
Things looked bad for Honka in the fourth quarter of game 4, when Akeem Scott had his fourth foul with 8:30 to go. Honka coach Mihailo Pavicevic turned to Petteri Koponen, asked: "Are you ready?", and entered the young point guard, who had been sidelined with broken thumb for more than two weeks. Koponen struggled in defence against Kouvot point guard Wayne Bernard, but was able to bring stability to Honka offence and dished out two assists in the last 8:30 of the game. Koponen also gave a valuable breather to Akeem Scott, who scored 11 out of Honka's last 13 points and helped Honka climb from 59-65 score to 72-71 win. (Akeem Scott 36/3, Matthew Williams 15/11).
After championship festivities, Koponen told he'll be practicing both individually and with the team and get his thumb healthy before he heads to the States in June.
Here are some quotes:
"I have mostly been glued to the bench because of this injury, but I didn't hesitate when coach wanted to insert me in the fourth quarter. My legs felt like lead and Wayne Bernard drove by me in every possible situation, but thankfully we found good rhythm in offence and got the job done."
"This game puts end to an era. It has been four years now that Petteri Koponen moved from his junior team to Honka Playboys and under my coaching. He has become exactly the player I have expected him to be. He is a great person, a great role model for young people and he has the possibility to become a great player one day."
-Coach Mihailo Pavicevic