It was shortly before High Noon in the German Pro B league as the top 8 teams in the two brackets south and north were looking forward to battle it out in the Playoffs and wanted to end the regular season in fine fashion while the bottom four teams in both brackets were looking to glide into the playdowns with some force hoping for their poor season showing to be rewarded with better play in the very important last weekends of the season determining who would stay in the Pro B or who would step down into the fourth league the regionaliga. The Giants Nordlingen came to Frankfurt with a lot less pressure as they knew their fate of having to play in the Playdowns while the Fraport Skyliners Juniors not only had a do or die game, but also had to hope for some help from team BG Karlsruhe who were playing against TG Wurzburg and or Weissenhorn who were battling the Dragons in Rhondorf. The only goal that the Frapoort Skyliners Juniors was to win and reach the playoffs would be a reality if at least one team Weissenhorn or Rhondorf lost. In the first meeting in Nordlingen, Frankfurt gutted out a nerve wracking 64-63 victory where German youngster Cosmo Gurehn once again showed his big man passing qualities finding other German Stefan Ilzhoefer for the winning bucket in the last minute. Back then, Frankfurt hadn´t hadn´t had their complete roster and hadn´t returned Alaska native Travis Thompson either, but still won. Thompson returned in December and has been anything short of brilliant, but his hot shooting has carried the team in his 13 games as he has scored in double figures in every game and had some huge games against the Dragons Rhondorf with 32 points on eight trey´s and scorched Leipzig last weekend for 33 points on almost perfect shooting going 8/9 from the parking lot. However the Giants Nordlingen had their own secret weapon in American rookie Terrence Smith who quietly is having a great season as well as he has scored in double figures in each game including explosions against Lich with 28 points and hit FC Bayern Munich for 24 points. In the first meeting against Frankfurt, the Russellville, Alabama native smith was close to a double double having had 16 points and nine assists in the bitter loss. Both Thompson and Smith were extra focused and motivated to carry their teams to victory, but Thompson had an off night as the stellar play and milestone belonged to Garai Zeeb who hit Nordlingen with 22 points while Isaac Bonga recorded his first triple double as a professional notching 10 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists leading the Fraport Skyliners Juniors to a massive 83-59 rout of the Giants Nordlingen securing a playoff meeting with top Pro B North team Lok Bernau while the 26 points of Terence Smith remained a side note.
After the win one of the first things Garai Zeeb does is go visit his family and friends in the stands and when he had gotten his last hug, had a big smile on his face about reaching his second playoff in a row with Frankfurt. “We came into the game knowing their strengthes and did a good job on one on one defense and when a man got beat our help was there. On offense we had too much running around in the first half, but had better structure in the second half and played calmer helping us get the win”, stressed ex Bremerhaven guard Garai Zeeb. The Giants Nordlingen wanted to get into the playdowns with some force and momentum, but couldn´t handle the unending offensive weapons of Frankfurt and just caved in in the second half. “Frankfurt made shots and spread it out on defense. We lacked communication and rotations were missing on defense. Frankfurt rebounded very well. When Frankfurt missed, they got the rebound”, stressed Alabama native Terence Smith.
Even if Gara Zeeb was Frankfurt top scorer and instrumental in the turnaround of their offense in the second half as his playmaking and organization coupled with his precision three point shooting, the story of the game was 17 year old 205cm wunderkind Isaac Bonga who registered his first ever professional triple double. He focused on his playmaking and superior passes to his teammates as well as being a monster on the boards not letting any Nordlingen big men get near the bucket as he was key for them having only three offensive rebounds instead of going out on an ego trip and scoring 30 points, but that has never been his style even if he wanted to. After the victory, the projected 2018 NBA draft pick was humble as always and even seemed a bit embarrassed talking about that first real milestone in his professional career. “It is a very good feeling getting this triple double. I am happy that I was able to find my teammates and that they found me tonight”, smiled Isaac Bonga. Even though Zeeb was a menace scoring, it was him that set up Bonga with the triple double finding him in the corner as he connected from downtown seeing this memorable game by Bonga not as his breakthrough, but something even stronger. “I don´t think he knew he was near a triple double. He was sick, but that didn´t stop him, but made him stronger. I think that the style of play of Nordlingen fits Bongá game. This wasn´t his breakout game, but it was a statement showing that he can really play. We shot extra before the game. Bonga really can shoot the ball, but just needs to be more consistent”, warned Garai Zeeb. Bonga didn´t know that he was near a triple double until he started hearing chants from the bench. “I know that I have to improve my shot, but when I let that last one go, it looked good and then I was relieved when it was in”, added Isaac Bonga. Even if Nordlingen guard Terence Smith hit a few jumpers in Bonga´s face, the overall offensive game of Bonga just took apart Nordlingen. “He hurt us on the boards and on the pick and roll with his court vision and looking over our defense. For me he is a young version of a Jordan Clarkson of the Los Angeles Lakers”, stressed Terence Smith. Rilhan Bakare´s eyes lit up when he was told that Frankfurt would play game one against Lok Bernau in the giant 15,000 plus Mercedes Benz arena in Berlin, but when he was asked about the performance of his teammate Bonga, his face displayed such joy and admiration for a kid who is nine years younger than him. “I had no idea he got a triple double. He definitely made a statement tonight. He progresses every game. He has so much confidence on the court. He is a great listener and learns so quickly. The Frankfurt coaches have been taking good care of him. He is a great teammate and has a bright future. I will be looking forward to seeing what his next step is: He is a 6,9 PG which is once in a lifetime”, stated Rilwan Bakare. 15 hours after Bonga´s triple double, and the Fraport Skyliners bitter 70-68 loss in Ludwigsburg, players like Niklas Kiel and Stefan Ilzhoefer were already in the gym digesting the loss as well as German Mahir Agva who reflected on Bonga´s triple double. “I am very happy for Isaac. He is a very good player. He works very hard and one sees that hard work pays off. He was sick all week and had only one practice. To come out and achieve a triple double is very impressive”, added Mahir Agva.
Frankfurt were without BBL license players Max Merz, Niklas Kiel, Mahir Agva and Stefan Ilzhoefer who were in Ludwigsburg playing BBL, but showed they didn´t need them on this night. Both teams came out roaring displaying their three point accuracy as Garai Zeeb nailed home two trey´s and ex BG Karlsruhe center Adrian Lind also connected. But Nordlingen held on to the momentum as Lind scored again inside and Smith scored his first bucket and was on his way to his 23rd game in a row in a Nordlingen jersey where he scored in double figures as the guests led 8-6. The game became a back and forth affair as each team went on little runs to trade back leads. 20 year old German role player Jamine Knothe who had worked himself into a starting rotation hit a trey which was followed by a bomb from outside from Alaska Native Travis Thompson and Frankfurt led 12-8. Then Nordlingen found some daylight again on offense reeling off a 9-0 run to retake the lead 17-12 as young German Robin Seeberger nailed a trey,Terence Smith broke the defense and scored inside and made free throws. And 20 year old German Eddy Edigin who played the last three years with FC Bayern Munich 2 scored in the zone. Frankfurt closed out the first quarter in fine fashion demonstrating a 5-0 run as Thompson connected for his second three and German Tim Oldenburg scored inside retrieving the no look pass from Isaac Bonga as the game was tied 17-17 after one quarter. “Both teams shot very well, but Frankfurt had too many turnovers and just were making bad decisions”, stated Fraport Skyliner U-16 coach Igor Starcevic. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 40% from the field and 56% from outside while the Giants Nordlingen were shooting 46% from the field and 33% from outside. Frankfurt had the 11-6 rebound edge, but seven turnovers while Nordlingen had five turnovers.
In the second quarter the Fraport Skyliners Juniors broke free a bit and also got solid production from their bench from guys like birthday boy Cosmo Gruehn, Lenny Okeke, and Rilwan Bakare. The heart and soul of the Nordlingen Giants German Fabian Bruetting opened up the second quarter with a deep trey for the 20-17 lead, but then it was all Frankfurt as they escaped out on a brutal 12-2 run to grab back the lead 29-22. In the run, Frankfurt was fortified by three´s by Gruehn and Okeke as well as lay ins from Bonga and back to back ones from Chicago native Rilwan Bakare. In this phase, Nordlingen had some careless turnovers which led Frankfurt to some easy baskets. Nordlingen didn´t have much offense and only got support from Smith who kept his team in the game with a tough turnaround shot and a trey to cut the Frankfurt lead to 31-27. However Fraport Skyliners Juniors head coach Eric Detlev continued to use his bench wisely and continued to get great support as German Konstantin Schubert scored in traffic and then Thompson nailed a three pointer for the 35-29 advantage. Ex Nebraska(NCAA) forward Adrien Coleman was a pest as he stayed aggressive in the paint and scored twice cutting the Frankfurt lead to 37-32. The last bucket of the first half featured the hook up between Isaac Bonga that whistled a fierce back door bounce pass that couldn´t have been placed more perfect right to the money which Thompson collected easily and finished for the Frankfurt 39-32 lead at the break. “Frankfurt spread out the scoring nicely and did a better job on Smith. Frankfurt continued to defend very good boxing out very well. Frankfurt could have led by as much as 10 points, but two costly turnovers led to direct points for Nordlingen. Bonga was playing great. He wasn´t scoring, but he showed with his overall play why he is a real team player”, added Igor Starcevic. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 50% from the field and 47% from the three point line while the Giants Nordlingen were shooting 39% from the field and 27% from the three point line. Frankfurt had the overwhelming 25-11 rebound edge, but had 12 turnovers while Nordlingen had only seven turnovers.
In the third quarter the Fraport Skyliners Juniors slowly broke away and would never look back coasting home to victory. Zeeb started off the third quarter connecting on his first trey of four that he would direct into the hoop as Frankfurt led 42-32. Nordlingen would show flashes of good offense, but their consistency was lacking, but a 5-0 run with baskets from Lind and Smith cut the Frankfurt lead down to 42-36. However Frankfurt´s offense is a well oiled offensive machine and struck Nordlingen for a 9-2 run to extend their lofty lead to 51-38. In the key Frankfurt run, the club was led by four different players as Bakare continued to be active inside scoring, Zeeb continued his splash shooting, then fed Bonga on the break for an easy basket and Gruehn hit a left handed hook shot. Smith did all he could nailing a trey to keep his team from totally getting left in the dust, but Zeeb was simply unstoppable as he hit his third three of the quarter giving Frankfurt the 54-41 advantage. The Frankfurt offense was fluid, there was good ball movement and the stellar guard play of Zeeb and Bonga was the difference. Then Smith and Zeeb traded three´s again and the Frankfurt German was having another great game and has done a good job this season mentally staying sharp and not getting lost in the numbers game and wilting under pressure needing to score every night. “I am one of the newest guys of the BBL license players. I still have to get better. My role here with the Pro B team is not needing to score every night, but leading the offense and getting my teammates in good position to score and make all happy. But tonight was a different situation. Thompson wasn´t totally physically fit and Bonga had been sick, so tonight my role was too step up. On this night I was required to score. I feel like I can have these games every night, but it depends what my role is on that give night. This performance didn´t surprise me, but I expect myself to be able to have these nights when I am called to do so”, warned Garai Zeeb. Frankfurt continued to pour on the offense closing out the third quarter with a Schubert hook shot and Oldenburg 20 footer as Frankfurt led 61-44. “We knew they would throw a zone at us. So we stayed patient and had better structure than in the first half and executed well on offense”, stated Garai Zeeb. “When a guy is hot, then we tend to keep giving him the ball. Zeeb was hot so we gave him the ball”, added Isaac Bonga. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 53% from the field and 52% from the three point line while the Giants Nordlingen were shooting 38% from the field and 37% from the three point line. Frankfurt dominated the boards 36-16, but had 15 turnovers while Nordlingen had 10 turnovers.
In the fourth quarter, the Fraport Skyliners Juniors continued to execute their offense well and held off the Giants Nordlingen without problems as they got fatigued. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors got on the board first as they performed the pick and pop to perfection as Thompson found Oldenburg open for the 20 footer as Frankfurt led 63-44. Nordlingen then found some precision execution going on a 6-0 run as Lind made free throws, Edigin scored inside again and Smith who finished with a season high 9 steals went coast to coast for the basket cutting the Frankfurt lead to 63-50. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors then closed the door with one cool swipe breaking out on a 14-0 run to lead 77-50. In the run, they kept displaying fine inside out basketball as Bonga and Okeke nailed three´s while Bakare and Armin Trtovac scored in the paint. With two minutes, all eyes were focused on Isaac Bonga and if he would get his triple double. He had seven points and needed a trey which isn´t his speciality, but when it counted he came through getting free and getting the perfect kick out pass from Zeeb giving Frankfurt the 77-54 lead. Okeke and Lind ended the contest trading three´s. “We ended the game well. It helps if you can keep that killer instinct until the end. We kept up our aggressiveness and intensity until the end”, added Isaac Bonga. “We ran out of gas in the second half. We were shorthanded with injuries and sicknesses this week. If Frankfurt shoots the way they did tonight in the playoffs then they could go far in the playoffs. It´s all about matchups”, warned Terence Smith. “Nordlingen gave up mentally in the fourth quarter. I told the guys when we were up by 13 that we have to beat them by 20-30 points, We wanted them to let us play our game until the end”, stressed Garai Zeeb. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were led by Garai Zeeb with 22 points. Travis Thompson, Rilwan Bakare and Isaac Bonga chipped in with 10 points apiece. The Giants Nordlingen were led by Terence Smith with 22 points while Adrian Lind added 14 points. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 53% from the field and 54% from outside while the Giants Nordlingen shot 36% from the field and 26% from outside. Frankfurt won the rebounding duel 46-24, but coughed up the ball 20 times while Nordlingen had 14 turnovers.