Tonight, Partizan will host Crvena Zvezda/Red Star Belgrade in game three of the Serbian finals. BallinEurope’s man in Serbia, Marko Savkovic, offers a parental advisory: This match will resemble a street fight at some point…

On Friday, Red Star finally succeeded in what seemed to be mission impossible only days ago: actually beating Partizan after suffering nine losses in a row to the Euroleague side. What we can expect is, first, more “rugby basketball,” as Partizan sport director Dragan Todoric likes to put it. With less class but more muscle, Red Star can turn this series completely around if only the team shows the same level of aggressiveness as witnessed in game two: Meaning they have to beat Partizan at their own brand of basketball, again.

Despite being crippled at the point guard position (Dominic James is out of competition due to a ruptured muscle), Partizan can still field enough talent to win this series. However, James’ absence will cause some changes to Partizan’s game plan.

First, Danilo Andjusic will man the PG position – Not a bad backup solution, since he has played the role before; however, he can get inconsistent on the defensive side. Also, with having to set plays as his first task, he will not be as deadly from long range as he can. Unless he spots an opportunity in Red Star defenders following the pick (contrary to what they did in game two) and starts nailing easy 2s and 3s.

Again, on the plus side, Andjusic is good at driving the ball hard into the paint and then kicking it out to the three-point line where Dragan Milosavljević, Vladimir Lucic, Milan Macvan, Dusan Kecman or someone else should be waiting. This simple yet effective play was not used enough in Partizan’s game when James was in, due to his score-first pass-second attitude.

Second, once again trusted veterans Kecman and Petar Božić will be asked to do their utmost. Although living legends of the club, the two have been criticized by many for not leaving when it was time (as though it was their decision only). Bozic is 34, Kecman 35: Red Star’s full-court defence, favoured by coach Svetislav Pesic will not show any respect to their age and experience.

What is rarely mentioned is that the absence of Partizan’s big guy Rasko Katic has proven to be an even greater issue. In game two, Raduljica played well but Macvan was pushed away from the basket, going for fadeaways – which don’t always work. Katic, on the other hand, uses every inch of space available, has high basketball IQ and always performs well against Red Star.

Pesic has found his “dedicated players” in the likes of Lazic (aggressive defence from positions 1 and 2), Nikola Subotić (great tenacity in the paint, an excellent offensive rebounder), and to a lesser extent, Nemanja Nedovic (pace-changer, can steal and is excellent in transition). Pesic’s headache begins at the line: In game two, his players simply missed far too many free throws as well as open threes. Although branded as a sharpshooter, Andreja Milutinović can miss what seems like an easy shot. He also has a problem driving the ball inside and needs to spend more time in the gym.

Who will not disappoint? Well, on Red Star’s side, two Popovices (PG Bojan and centre Petar) should bring their “A” game. The same might be said for Raduljica, who should pay less attention to referees and more to grabbing rebounds: his team needs him on both sides of the court.

For the first time in over a decade, Partizan’s throne is under siege. Its players will have to give everything in order to continue their well-deserved domination of Serbian courts. Red Star will count on Pesic’s intuition and desire to finally show that there are now two teams in this town.

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,