Kataja Basket soar to the top again in Finland
JOENSUU (Finnish Basketball League) - Kataja Basket celebrated their second Finnish title, knocking off Regular Season winners Salon Vilpas 4-2 in the Korisliiga Finals to reclaim the national trophy after a one-year break.
After stealing home court advantage in the first game of the series, the second-seeded Joensuu maintained their advantage throughout the best-of-seven duel and locked in the championship with a dominant 94-65 showing on their home floor on Saturday.
Salon Vilpas had previously extended the series with an 84-72 victory at home in Salu, but simply didn't stand a chance against the offensive onslaught by Kataja Basket in the next fixture.
"This team is like a family. It feels really good to win the championship," said Kataja head coach Greg Gibson after taking the decisive victory in Game 6. "I am just really proud of these guys and this organization. I think how we played today showed what we're capable when we're really focused."
The 48-year-old American coach, who took charge in Joensuu at the start of the season after previously also working with Kauhajoen Karhu and Bisons Loimaa in Finland, spoke of the ever-improving Korisliiga.
"I think we showed once again that the level of basketball in Finland is rising. It was a really tough series. We kind of took care of business today, but every other game was really close," Gibson said.
Jerekious Bradley led the winners with 24 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks in the last game of the series, Daniel Mullings added 23 points and 6 rebounds, while 37-year-old veteran point guard Teemu Rannikko chipped in with 5 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds.
"It was the best atmosphere I've experienced in Joensuu. It's just a great feeling right now. This championship will rank really high in my career," said Rannikko after earning only his second national title, with the first one also coming with Kataja in 2015.
After a solid showing in the Regular Season of the Basketball Champions League, Kataja Basket transferred to the FIBA Europe Cup for the Play-Offs, but couldn't overcome the Telekom Baskets hurdle in the Round of 16, losing on point differential after splitting wins.