It was a must-win game when Nanterre 92 travelled to face Unicaja Malaga on Wednesday night, with both teams having lost their first two games in the Top 16 and knowing that another setback would make hopes of progressing to the quarterfinals fade fast. After a high-scoring start, the game was finely poised at 51-52 midway through the third quarter. A few minutes later, though, Nanterre had raced to an ultimately game-deciding double-digit 60-70 lead that held up until the end of its 83-92 victory – and Isaia Cordinier was the main reason why.
The 24-year-old French forward, in his second season with Nanterre, had started the game well enough and scored 11 points by halftime. But that was nothing compared to his exploits at the end of the third quarter, which were presaged by him making a mid-court steal and racing to the basket to throw down a slam. After a quiet few minutes he got back in the action with an attempted long two that was blocked from behind, but he grabbed the loose ball and scored at the rim with a foul. That sparkling play seemed to give Cordinier a boost in energy. He proceeded to become an unstoppable one-man offensive machine for the remaining minutes of the period, adding a trio of two-point strikes and then beating the third-quarter buzzer from beyond the arc.
Cordinier finished the game having tied his career-high with 24 points to go with 3 rebounds, 3 assists and another joint personal best of 4 steals in a highly impressive all-round effort that also saw him play the full 40 minutes for the second time this season, after having done so in the regular season opener against Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana. No other EuroCup player has been on the floor for the entirety of any game. Cordinier also played 46 minutes 39 seconds of a double-overtime win at Dolomiti Energia Trento in the regular season and now leads the EuroCup in minutes played with 34:05 per game.
The Nanterre hero's performance on Wednesday certainly caught the eye of new Unicaja coach Fotis Katsikaris, who despite losing in his EuroCup return, complimented for the Frenchman after the game: "Cordinier is, for me, one of the best players in Europe right now. He has NBA potential, and we saw today his physical skills creating a lot of problems for us."
High praise, indeed, from an opposing coach, and an assessment that both sides will want to keep in mind when Nanterre hosts Unicaja in a week's time for a Top 16 Round 4 matchup that is just as fateful for both teams.