Awesome Antwerp reign supreme at 3x3 Poitiers Challenger
POITIERS (France) - Antwerp (BEL) stamped themselves as a rising force on the FIBA 3x3 pro circuit with a thrilling victory over Utena Uniclub (LTU) to claim the Poitiers Challenger on July 2-3, 2021.
Fresh off winning their first-ever Challenger recently in Lipik, No.7 Antwerp proved they are the real deal having defeated as well red-hot Amsterdam Talent&Pro (NED) and Ub (SRB) en route to back-to-back titles.
After shocking the world in Debrecen to qualify for the Olympics, confident Belgian players are making 2021 their year as they tune up for a serious medal tilt in Tokyo.
Nick Celis had the perfect preparation for the Olympics with a MVP performance in Poitiers after finishing top scorer with 40 points in 5 games, leading rebounder (26) and first in P-VAL (37.4).
This loaded event had more thrillers than in Netflix's library.
The opener saw the top seeds through but it wasn't easy with a full-strength Riga (LAT) pushed to the limit by French teams Nantes and Lyon.
Last year's World Tour Final champs have found 2021 a little difficult but high-flyer Karlis Lasmanis flew into Poitiers on Flight KLM with an event-best 19 points on Day 1 to send a warning to the field.
No.2 Sakiai Gulbele (LTU) and Antwerp delivered an early classic with the Lithuanians prevailing in dramatic fashion when Darius Tarvydas nailed a two-piece on the buzzer.
Fellow Lithuanians Utena Uniclub made a statement against No.3 seed Ub with an impressive 21-16 victory.
Utena were unrecognizable from the team that were a revelation on the World Tour last year but showed they had depth with Gintautas Matulis and Vytautas Sulskis starring.
Perhaps the most anticipated Day 1 game was a Pool D blockbuster between Amsterdam Talent&Pro (NED) and Lausanne Sport (SUI).
The Dutch masters had painted 3x3 orange this year during a remarkable run culminating in the Netherlands qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.
After battling past Dusseldorf in a tight contest, Amsterdam flexed their muscles with a 21-11 beatdown over the talented Swiss.
It was a team effort but prized recruit Maksim Kovacevic dominated inside to overwhelm Lausanne, who had been once again hoping to fulfil their enormous potential.
The top seven seeds made it through with No.9 Nantes getting the final place over No.8 Lyon.
With the big guns through, the quarter-final bracket lined up nicely and we had an upset alert straight up with Ub knocking out Riga 21-18. The Serbs pulled away late in an arm-wrestle to eliminate Riga, who rued cold-shooting from beyond the arc to continue a rocky 2021.
But the Latvians can lick their wounds and start focusing on their Olympic dreams.
Antwerp and Amsterdam were colder than Steve Austin in a slugfest of a battle. But Celis was the standout and won a shootout with counterpart Dimeo van der Horst as Antwerp prevailed 12-11.
Sakiai and Utena rounded out the final four and ensured an all-Lithuania clash in the semis.
First up, Celis turned into a one-man wrecking ball with an insane 14 points and 10 rebounds to down higher seed Ub 20 -16.
The other semi-final was Lith-o-mania with Utena having the bragging rights over Sakiai 15-12 in a fierce contest between two teams playing with a lot of pride. Utena survived cold shooting from deep thanks largely to Matulis , who finished with a game-high 7 points.
The final between Antwerp and Utena (who both secured a ticket to a FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters to be confirmed at a later stage) lived up to top billing.
The Belgians had the edge for most of the contest before surviving a fast and furious rally from the Lithuanians who were making a case to be cast in F9.
But Celis once again proved the difference with an equal game-high 9 points to ensure the brilliant Belgians issued an ominous warning ahead of their date with destiny.
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The Challengers are back already next weekend. After Poitiers, we stay in France, closer to Paris in Cergy-Pontoise, The two best U.S. teams in the ranking NY Harlem and Princeton will be there. And Antwerp will get a chance to go 3 for 3 on Challengers this year.