Friday’s meeting at the Fonteta was a critical battle to reach the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs and both Valencia Basket and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul were fully aware of it. A game full of intensity and physicality ensued, and when the dust settled, Valencia had managed to record its 15th regular season win, getting closer to playoffs territory.
Valencia used a great defensive effort to stop Fenerbahce’s offense like no other team in recent years. The hosts held Fenerbahce to 52 points, its lowest score since November 2016, when it registered an 86-52 loss against TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. Its previous score of less than 52 points dates back to January 2009.
Fenerbahce hit 3-of-23 three-point shots (13.0%), a new season-low and its second-lowest percentage in EuroLeague history. Fenerbahce only shot worse from downtown on November 16, 2011, when it hit 1-of-8 three-pointers (12.5%) in an 82-83 victory against Bennett Cantu. It also had 18 turnovers, tying its lowest mark in 2021.
"We played good defense against Fenerbahce, probably [our best of the season]. We had a consistent defense, controlled all the pick and roll situations," head coach Jaume Ponsarnau said after the game. "Probably they didn’t have their best day but we played good defense as a team."
Defense made Valencia win the game, but also key was finding the right floor generals. Coming off an injury, Guillem Vives only saw 4 seconds on court, but Martin Hermannsson and Sam Van Rossom ran Valencia's offense efficiently, playing aggressive against Lorenzo Brown, Nando De Colo and Kenan Sipahi for easy points in penetration.
Hermannsson finished the game with 11 points on 3-of-4 two-points, also hitting his only shot from beyond the arc. Van Rossom recorded with 17 points on 6-of-7 two-pointers, 1-of-2 three-pointers and 2-of-2 free throws. He added 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 4 fouls drawn.
Those two players combined for 7 assists, just 2 turnovers and a PIR of 44, more than the entire Fenerbahce team combined. "All the games we have to play now until the end of the season are finals for us," Van Rossom said after the game. "Step by step. This is the first one, we’ve got five more so we’ve got to keep taking it game by game and try to win as many as possible."
Playing against his former team on a night he received his EuroLeague MVP for February award, Nikola Kalinic also had an all-around game with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks, being Valencia's glue guy at both ends. "We have to just take it step by step and show the face we showed tonight," he said. "Lots of fight, lots of grind and hustle. When we play like that we’re really a great team."
Valencia now ranks 10th in the standings with a 15-14 record but has the tie-break advantage against all the bottom-ranked teams in the playoffs zone: Real Madrid (2-0), Fenerbahce (2-0) and Zenit St Petersburg (1-1, +16), respectively in sixth, seventh and eighth in the standings. In other words, if Valencia keeps playing defense like it did against Fenerbahce, a ticket to the playoffs should not be out of the question.