Defending champions Manama produced a stunning final quarter performance to defeat Al Ahli 97-85 last night in the final game of their best-of-three Zain Basketball League semi-final series at the Khalifa Sports City Arena to storm into the final.
Both teams had won a game each as they headed into the decider, with Al Ahli triumphing 93-86 the week before with Manama – who are seeking a record 22nd trophy – levelling the series four days later with a 95-85 win.
But, as last night’s topsy-turvy game headed into the fourth quarter, it was 20-time champions, Al Ahli, who held a slim, one-point advantage with the scoreboard reading 66-65 in their favour.
However, that equation soon changed as soon as play began with Ahmed Aldurazi scoring a sublime three-pointer to make it 68-66 for Manama before Al Ahli’s excellent Maitham Jameel replied with one of his own to put his team back in the lead, at 69-68.
Not to be outdone, Manama’s Travin Thibodeaux also joined in the fun and his three-point jump shot put his team ahead, 71-69, with eight minutes still left in the game.
Teammate Mustafa Husain then scored a two-pointer to push Manama further ahead before Al Ahli reduced the deficit to one, courtesy of free throws by Dakari Johnson and captain Mohamed Qurban.
The scoreboard now showed Manama leading 73-72 and their fans – who had created an ocean of blue in the stands with their team shirts – cheered them on lustily.
In the stand next to theirs, a sea of Al Ahli supporters, clad in their team’s trademark yellow shirts, screamed loudly in reply, adding to the din in the packed arena.
The sound from the Manama supporters grew louder over the next minute as Husain scored another two-pointer followed immediately by Sir’Dominic Pointer scoring a two-point jump shot and calmly netting two free throws.
With just five minutes left until the final buzzer, Manama were leading 79-72 and as their supporters danced and sang joyously, the Al Ahli fans had begun to look a little concerned.
Taylor Rochestie allayed their fears somewhat over the next minute by coolly depositing four free throws in succession to bring the deficit down to just three at 76-79.
But that increased to six points inside the next 30 seconds as Ahmed Salman scored a three-pointer to make it 82-76 and followed that up by scoring one off a free throw to increase Manama’s lead to 83-76.
With just under three minutes left in the game, the signs were beginning to look ominous for Al Ahli but their fans perked up when Rochestie scored a two-pointer to reduce Manama’s lead to five, at 83-78.
Manama’s Husain, then, scored two back-to-back three-pointers after Rochestie had scored another point off a free throw to seemingly put the issue beyond any doubt with the scoreboard showing the defending champions leading 89-79 and slightly more than a minute and a half left.
A few second later, Ahmed Salman appeared to seal the deal for Manama with another three-pointer as the scoreboard showed his team leading by 13 points, at 92-79.
Believing their team could not possibly lose from that position, with just about 75 seconds remaining, the Manama fans had already begun singing a victory chant in unison while the Al Ahli fans sat on the edge of their seats, willing their team on to stage a miraculous comeback.
But it was not to be and, after Johnson, with a free throw, and Rochestie, with a three-pointer, brought the gap down to 10 points, at 92-82, it was left to Manama’s brilliant Pointer – who top-scored for his team with 24 points along with 11 rebounds and one assist – to close the game out in the dying moments with four free throws.
Earlier, Manama had led 28-20 at the end of the first quarter and 43-40 at half-time.
But Rochestie, who top-scored in the game with 34 points to go with three rebounds and three assists, and Johnson, who managed 21 points with 15 rebounds and two assists, combined beautifully in the third quarter to push Al Ahli into a one-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes.
Manama will now face Muharraq – who defeated Al Ettihad 2-1 in their best-of-three semi-final series – in the final.