Tindastóll celebrated a historic victory yesterday as they secured their first-ever men’s basketball championship. In a nail-biting showdown during game five of the finals, Tindastóll emerged triumphant with a close 81-82 victory over Valur. Head Coach Pavel Ermolinskij, leading the team in his inaugural season, was in a humble mood after the game, telling Vísir he had been “a passenger” on the team’s journey.
Heading into game five of the finals yesterday, Tindastóll, a sports club based in Sauðárkrókur in North Iceland, had previously made it to the league finals on four occasions – without having ever clinched the title. After suffering a defeat in game four in Sauðárkrókur on Monday, Tindastóll faced a difficult task at Valur’s home court in Hlíðarendi, Reykjavík.
Valur began the game in an assertive fashion, establishing an 11-2 advantage after four minutes of play, with the atmosphere appearing to be slightly tilted in the home team’s favour. Valur continued their strong run during the beginning of the second quarter, but Tindastóll managed to claw their way into the game, narrowing the deficit to five points, 43-38, when the half-time whistle was blown.
Throughout much of the third quarter, Valur’s five-point margin remained intact. With four minutes remaining in the quarter, however, Tindastóll achieved a breakthrough by capturing their first lead. Keyshawn Woods played a pivotal role in the turnaround, sinking a pair of free throws to bring the score to 55-56 in Tindastóll’s favour.
In the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, Valur appeared to have the championship within their grasp. A pivotal three-pointer from the hands of Kári Jónsson gave the home team a crucial 75-72 lead. Kári continued his streak, extending Valur’s advantage to five points, with the scoreboard reading 77-72 and only a minute remaining on the clock.
Tindastóll displayed incredible determination and refused to surrender. Keyshawn Woods stepped up in a crucial moment and levelled the game, bringing the score to a 79-79 tie, with just fifteen seconds left of the fourth quarter.
A dramatic finish
Valur called a timeout, and head coach Finnur Freyr Stefánsson drew up a play for Kári Jónsson. Kári subsequently drove past Tindastóll’s defence brilliantly and netted a tough shot with just five seconds left on the clock.
Tindastóll’s head coach, Pavel Ermolinskij – a former player for Valur and eight-time national champion – was forced to call a timeout, and he drew up a play for Keyshawn Woods. Having received the ball, Keyshawn Woods jumped up for a three-point attempt – and was fouled. Woods displayed nerves of steel and sank all the free throws to give Tindastóll an 81-82 lead. To complete the drama of the night, as noted by Vísir, the second two penalties both bounced on the ring before going in.
In a final attempt to turn the game, Kári Jónsson drove upfield, but Sigtryggur Arnar Björnsson, running after him, tripped him up. Valur wanted a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct – which would have meant two free throws for Kári – but the referees were of a different opinion. Valur were awarded a throw-in with 1.6 seconds on the clock, which was not enough for the home team to carve out a timely shot at the basket.
“A mere passenger”
After the game, Pavel Ermolinskij stated that he was “stunned” by Tindastóll’s supporters, who were in an ecstatic mood. Pavel explained that it was unclear whether he would remain the team’s coach.
When reporter Stefán Árni Pálsson asked him how he was feeling, in an interview with Vísir after the game, Pavel responded thusly: “Just great, of course. I’m grateful to have been a part of this. I just wanted to be a passenger in what’s happening now.”
Pavel went on to express his admiration for Tindastóll’s players.
“Tindastóll, I’m just a passenger, and I just want to experience and be on their side in this. All those who played this year and over this ten-year history, they are the ones who deserve to have this moment.”