The Monegasque team recorded a gritty win at Virtus as Jordan Loyd provided the spark.
Monaco keeps rolling as top-four finish beckons
AS Monaco boosted its hopes of finishing in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague’s top four at the end of the regular season and thus clinching home-court advantage in the playoffs, having earned a 78-81 win at Virtus Segafredo Bologna on Friday night.
The result propelled Monaco (16-10) into fourth position, above Virtus (16-10) and Olympiacos Piraeus (15-11), after Sasa Obradovic’s side celebrated its fifth successive win and also ended the Italian team’s 11-game unbeaten home run.
It was also sweet revenge for Monaco as Virtus celebrated a whopping 59-83 victory in the reverse fixture in October, the Monegasques’ biggest home defeat since arriving in the EuroLeague, with the Italian side making a tremendous start as the season’s surprise package.
Jordan Loyd’s resurgence
Monaco guard Jordan Loyd stood out in the titanic tussle with a season-high 24 points on Friday, having produced easily his best performance this term after struggling with a recurring back injury for much of the campaign.
Loyd, who averages 10.3 points per night in just 11 games played this term after missing a bunch of encounters following back surgery during the off-season, sank 12 points in the second quarter against Virtus and lifted Monaco alongside pack leader Mike James.
Head coach Sasa Obradovic pointed out that Loyd’s return to form was pivotal in Monaco’s bid to emulate last season’s success, when it reached the Final Four.
“He was a piece of the puzzle we needed,” Obradovic told the post-game press conference. “He was a strong factor last season and the team breathes differently when he is healthy and in the roster.
“The court is different; it gets bigger and other guys get involved more. He is a crunch player who can decide the game in any situation and our inconsistent results this season were directly connected with missing him.”
Monaco is ‘dreaming big’
The 55-year-old Serbian tactician, who won two European Championships and one World Cup with the former Yugoslavia as a player, highlighted that the win against Virtus meant much more to Monaco than just improving its record in the standings.
“That was an extraordinary win against a direct rival for one of the top positions in the standings,” he stated. “It was more like a typical playoff game, with a lot of toughness and physicality. Our confidence and chemistry is growing with each game and we can be a threat to anybody. We are very happy with the win and we’re dreaming big.”
Obradovic credited tougher defense as the reason Monaco has been able to rise from mid-table and make its mark as a strong top-four contender amid fierce competition, with one win separating five teams in the mix.
Third-placed Panathinaikos AKTOR Athens (16-10) all the way to seventh-placed Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (15-11) constitute a shark-tank in the upper half of the table, with Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (14-12) in eighth breathing down everyone’s necks.
“We are a different team now that we were even a month ago as we’ve raised the level of our defense,” added Obradovic. “We always had the talent on the offensive end with players able to create and make their own shots, but stepping up on defense has been crucial.”