Speaking of national cups, Serbia’s tournament also went down this weekend, with Partizan enjoying a 64-51 win over Red Star Belgrade. Win the win, the perpetual Euroleague side once again reasserted its supremacy back home and are on a title run longer than Montepaschi Siena’s. BallinEurope’s man in Serbia, Marko Savkovic, analyzes the keys to victory and of course provides highlight clips. Congratulations to Partizan!

Five in a row! In hard-fought, super emotional finale of the Serbian National Cup, Red Star Belgrade (a.k.a. Crvena Zvezda Beograd) surprised many by staying competitive well until the fourth quarter. Then trusted veteran Dusan Kecman – Who else would it be, after all? – scored his first triple, giving Partizan a 54-44 lead to put them well beyond their rivals’ reach. As an intentional foul was called on Omar Thomas with two minutes remaining, the celebration could begin. And it was well deserved, as Partizan clinched its 15th trophy (yes, you read it correctly) in three years, including Serbian League, Serbian Cup and Adriatic League titles. So what won the game for Partizan?

As both coaches noted, the contest came down to willpower, running, and rebounding. Every pick, screen, drive and pass was contested in what was an impressive display of team defence from both sides. Partizan controlled the boards at 28 rebounds to 18. Finally, Partizan converted all-important 10 points out of Red Star’s 20 turnovers.

On the other side, Red Star should be credited for allowing Partizan a season-low 64 points. Its players did manage to confuse opponents by switching quickly from a full-court press to a 2-3 zone. They forced a number of offensive fouls as well by smart positioning. Still, with an abysmal performance from the three-point line – just one made in 11 attempts – Red Star simply could not win this game, or any other. Most of these shots may have been contested, but same could be said of Partizan’s shooting. The difference were than the Black-and-Whites’ youngsters – Vladimir Lucic, Marko Cakarevic and tournament MVP Danilo Andjusic – stayed calm under pressure.

And when it counted the most, the Partizan defence was just as formidable. Red Star’s only three-pointer came from the most unlikely source: seven-foot centre Mile Ilic. In the fourth quarter, Ilic’s teammates managed to score just six points in eight minutes.

The duel of sharpshooters BallinEurope previously announced was thus won by Andjusic. Although only stepping onto the court late in the second quarter, Andjusic spearheaded Partizan’s first assault and contributed to an 8-0 run to establish a 29-21 lead. In the fourth quarter, his steal first prompted Ilic to make an intentional foul; and Andjusic then scored the basket of the game with only a second left on the shot clock. Andreja Milutinovic, on the other hand, made only three attempts at basket, as he was well guarded by Cakarevic.

Seeing the ferocity of Partizan’s defence, coach Svetislav Pesic opted for two offensive set-ups, of which the first featured a low post for Ilic or Petar Popovic followed by a back-door pass for Omar Thomas or Milutinovic. This set play, which had worked well against weaker sides, was read by Partizan from the start. The pick-and-roll (“one”, or “thumb up”) did not work either, since a) it took ages for the Red Star PGs to get into position, and b) Partizan has more than enough “meat” in the paint to prevent easy twos. The only player who got an open look was Ilic, forcing several otherwise unlikely pick-and-pop actions. This is why he led the scoring for the Red Star.

Who could summarize it better than Pesic, who admitted at the end of the press conference how “We still lack experience to win this type of game. I expect us to find our calmness soon.” As he was leaving the conference, he promised coach Vlada Jovanovic: “We’re waiting for you in the national league” slated to begin in a month time. Plenty to look forward to, then…

Marko Savkovic fell in love with basketball because: a) his older brother used to play, so it must have been a cool thing to do; and b) he witnessed Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc play an exhibition match back in 1988. After learning the fundamentals with Partizan Belgrade, Marko spent four years in FMP Zeleznik’s youth system and another three playing lower-division ball. Years later, as a political science graduate, he found a different career for himself, yet remained devoted to hoops. For BallinEurope, he will be closely following developments in the Adriatic league. You may write him at markosavkovic@gmail.com.

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