Alba Berlin did what Alba Berlin do, the unexpected. Now what? Emmet Ryan looks ahead to a wild finish to Euroleague’s Top 16.
It is, in the most basic of terms, the biggest game in German basketball since the EuroBasket final of 2005. At club level, you’ve got to go all the way back to 1995 when Alba Berlin lifted the Korac Cup. Alba Berlin stands on the brink of qualifying for the playoffs of Euroleague and all they have to do is beat the reigning champions.
This season has been defined by plenty of conventional storylines. What are Fenerbahce? As it turns out, a playoff team with a chance to lock up home court advantage with a home win over Anadolu Efes. As for Efes, they need to pull the upset to lock up a spot against Real Madrid or Barcelona in the playoffs. This is also known as, a series Efes will likely lose 3-0 or 3-1 but everyone will want to see what Dario Saric does especially if he is playing against Mario Hezonja.
As for the giants in Spain, they are both getting home court and the only question is who gets bragging rights for winning Group E. The other side, where CSKA have secured home court is far more interesting. Add in a dash of Olympiacos looking to finish with 10 wins and the standard stories are still in place.
That’s the normal stuff. It took the most bizarre 7-6 record in the short history of the current Top 16 format to truly bring the madness.
Alba Berlin have stolen the show this round due to their incredible unpredictability. Look at the Ws, look at the Ls, wonder how they match up like this. They pulled an upset in the Nokia Arena, they did the same in the OAKA, they stomped on the neck of Barcelona in Berlin, and we still can’t forget that time they beat the Spurs. This is the same team that got utterly trounced by a Crvena Zvezda team at a stage when the Serbs had next to no hope of progressing.
Alba is a team that wins the games it’s supposed to lose and loses the games it’s supposed to win. Against Maccabi on Thursday night, with both teams likely to need the W, it’s hard to decide which one of those games this is supposed to be. On paper, Maccabi is the better basketball team and it has the experience of being here before. How much have similar facts mattered up to now?
Bayern’s push for a playoff spot last year was fun to watch but they didn’t have the level of unpredictability of this Alba team. They took care of business where they needed to but came up just short against their playoff rivals. That is conventional basketball on this continent.
Alba? This is a team that delivered a Euroleague player of the week in Round 13 who got into a shoving match with his coach while losing to a middling side just a couple of months back. This is a side whose own history in Euroleague is perfectly in step with the role of the Bundesliga in Europe’s hierarchy to date.
This season there’s a real shot at a playoff spot and on Thursday 9 April at 20.45 CET, Alba will still technically have a shot at a treble. For any German team that’s remarkable. For a team that had to overhaul its roster last summer it’s the stuff of dreams. Not your regular kind of dreams kids, I mean the ones when you get when hang out with Willie Nelson.
That adversity and need to not even think about it has driven Berlin’s home club this season. They are playing like the basketball equivalent of the Barbarians*. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a plan but there’s also a belief in this side that whatever the score is they need to just keep playing and doing so explosively.
That’s what is going to have everyone watching the O2 on Thursday night. Panathinaikos fans will naturally be keeping an eye because that game directly affects them but so long as they can keep Boban Marjanovic from utterly mutilating them (mild mutilation is fine) they should be ok. There’s also a Spanish derby that is of immense importance but Group F just isn’t the story this week. It’s not even what Maccabi shows up (for the record, I think a good one), it’s what exactly Alba are going to do. I haven’t the foggiest idea and that makes me immensely happy. Enjoy the last gasp before the playoffs kids.
*My sincerest apologies to Rob Scott for including a rugby reference but it is the Baa-baas 125th birthday.