By Antonis Stroggylakis / firstname.lastname@example.org
Valencia guard Chris Jones emerged as the late hero for his team in a big EuroLeague win on the road over Olympiacos Piraeus. The American player was the one to hit the three winning free throws with four seconds to play amid loud booing and shouting from more than 9,000 fans in the Peace and Friendship arena.
“It’s tough. It’s probably one of the biggest situations I’ve been in throughout my career,” Jones told Eurohoops some moments after the final buzzer. “But I got confidence in my teammates and the coaching staff. I put the work in so I feel confident about it to knock these free throws down.”
With Valencia down 82 – 80, Jones skillfully won the decisive three free throws by pulling for a 3-pointer while Olympiacos players tried to foul him on the floor. It was already obvious from previous plays that the Reds were looking to foul in order to prevent a potential attempt for three in the final seconds, instead of trying to play clean defense.
It made some sense, in a way, since players like Jones, Klemen Prepelic or Bojan Dubljevic are well capable of hitting even a contested 3-pointer under pressure. Jones planned his action accordingly.
“They wanted to make it a free-throw game to have the last shot,” Jones said. “I knew for sure that they’d foul at once we got past that point that it wouldn’t be an intentional foul. I was going to pick the ball up and I was going to shoot the ball regardless. I knew they were going to foul. It worked out. If they didn’t foul, I was kind of in trouble. But they fouled, so it all worked out.”
Valencia got the victory despite trailing for the entire game until the very last seconds. Jones, who finished with 17 points, seven assists and three steals, sees that as another active display of a “refuse to lose” spirit that encompasses the team.
“It’s a part of our identity,” Jones said. “That no matter how many points we’re down we have the identity that we continue to fight until the last moment. We believed in each other. Executed offensively. I just give credit to my teammates. Dubi [Bojan Dubljevic], for example, played big for us. We’re trying to build something and getting a win like this is great.”
It wasn’t the first time this season that Valencia showed that they can threaten or even beat powerhouses away from home. The Spanish side had defeated reigning EuroLeague champion Anadolu Efes on the road and came very close to downing then-undefeated Fenerbahce Beko, also in Istanbul.
They are currently sitting on 3-3 in EuroLeague.
“We can go as far as we want to go,” Jones commented. “If we continue to believe in each other. We beat Efes, we played hard against Fenerbahce. We just beat Olympiacos on the road. We’re a tough team. We’re showing that. And if we continue to improve step by step we’re going to be really good.”
“We’re winning games,” he added. “People may not believe that we can win but we believe that. And we’re going to keep pushing.”
So far this season, Jones has been averaging 14.3 points, 5.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists. He’s leading his team’s offense overall and enjoys his time at Valencia, on and off the floor.
“I feel I’m in a perfect situation,” Jones mentioned. “My teammates, coaching staff, everybody believes in me. I’m happy. My family enjoys it. Things can’t be any better.”