BallinEurope’s Emmet Ryan went along to the Mercedes Benz Arena for basketball’s version of Der Klassiker and it was a cracker as Alba Berlin took the 92-88 win over Brose Bamberg. More than the result, what really stood out for the hosts was how they could trust youth and go with it
The albatross was hyped. Niels Giffey, a Final Four hero for UConn was first out as dry ice filled the area. This crowd was hyped, as seems almost the norm in Germany, for a pretty big one. Alba were coming off a defeat in Eurocup midweek, similarly Bamberg were in their first outing since losing to Jerusalem. Both have been the power in Germany for extended spells, both are trying to keep pace with Bayern, but Alba’s glory days are further away and they are looking to bring them back to the capital.
It’s near impossible for Alba to fill this 14,500 seat hall but it was close to a full house. It’s the biggest in Bundesliga and their fall-back, the Max Schmelling, is the second biggest. Still there was a good crowd here and ticket sales had been strong in the lead-up with 11,000 sold by Friday. The scale of this game mattered. Both sides sat at 5-1, with Alba’s loss to Rasta Vechta coming in the midst of a wild injury crisis that they were still battling through.
With Alba averaging over 100 points a game on the season coming into this, it wasn’t exactly a shock to see this one start with a lot of buckets. Seeing 17 year of Franz Wagner out there was still something else. The prospect is getting quite the baptism in the big time by playing his home games in an arena that would look normal in the NBA. He made a three at the top of the key early to blow the roof off the joint early. His frame is unquestionably that of a teenager as was his energy but he didn’t look like a boy with anything to prove. This could have just as easily been a junior game and he’d have probably carried himself the same.
Out went Wagner and in came another kid, 18 year old Jonas Mattisseck. He was still a little bit more raw around the edges, part because he’s got to play a bit out of position. Even with the injury woes, Stefan Peno is the clear point guard choice over the youngster and finding his way around the wing took a couple of possessions. Still he harried hard. Tyrese Rice did everything he could to shake the kid going sideline to sideline and twisting the possession but still Mattisseck was in his face and did a solid job defending the eventual three shot that missed. Offensively he moved into the groove that little bit better as he added possessions and then spun round neatly to the elbow to collect a Peno dime and drop it in from deep.
Erst ein Steal, dann der Dunk. Rokas Giedraitis lässt es krachen und auch sonst läuft es bislang gut für unsere Albatrosse gegen Brose Bamberg. Mit 31:25 führen wir nach den ersten 10 Minuten.#albaberlin #mitleibundseele pic.twitter.com/V5AvL7J8gT
— ALBA BERLIN (@albaberlin) November 18, 2018
Giffey, he’d been quiet enough until intercepting an inbounds from Rice to send Rokas Giedraitis off and running for the dunk. Another turnover by Alba and Giedraitis made a three. What’s extraordinary about this Alba pace is that it is fast but doesn’t feel anywhere near the intense force it really is. Haste isn’t in play here, it’s just being smart with quick movements. There’s almost always a guy there ready for the second chance opportunity, and they rotate hard to keep bodies fresh. That’s why Giffey could look fresh as a daisy against a Bamberg side that had been given the runaround to end the first with a three to make it a 31-25 lead.
A 56 point quarter is just assumed as normal here. Of course there are going to be lots of scores, it’s an Alba game. They take the mentality that the Bundesliga is offensively minded to extremes.
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The confidence was clearly growing with Mattiseck. He had the point now and wanted options. His gait was more fluid and there was aggressive joy in his face when Nikos Zisis was called for an offensive foul for a play he was across the court for. He was showing creativity offensively but a couple of times he was let down at the finish. Peno came in from his break to take over and add that tiny touch more of pace to the attack.
That was all the warm-up Giffey needed and he was off to the races again. He’s spent his entire pro career with Berlin since coming back from his NCAA career and that Final Four with the Huskies. His offensive talent is obvious, defensively his talent is in timing. While a flashy turnover is nice, Giffey can spot broken play and a bobble or two fast. He knows there are bigger or faster players out there but few who are both, he looks to find that hole where his presence makes the most sense.
As for Bamberg, they were getting a lot more out of Zisis in this outing than Wednesday’s loss to Jerusalem but Rice was once more struggling to make an impact. Stefan Jelovac and Augustin Rubit were doing what they could to carry the load. The pace had come back more to their liking and they weren’t allowing Alba to go on quick three possession runs out of nowhere but there were still too many issues in execution offensively. The D was giving them a platform but not one they were building off sufficiently. The good news was that Bryce Taylor was healthy at last. He finally got on the floor this season in this one and logged a solid first half, nailing a couple of three pointers. Having long been the deepest roster in Germany, Bamberg now needs to make more of its prime assets and a healthy Taylor was giving that little bit more.
The calm in the timeouts really felt a little weird. The Alba dancers are fantastic and the crowd seemed enraptured but it’s quite a hard shift from the constant banging and cheering around a vast arena. Once the dancers came out, everyone chilled out, the music hit, the albatross did his bit and so did the performers. Then the music stopped and the whole place became a wall of noise again.
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Wagner was back in to finish the quarter having sat since the middle of the first. He tried a bit of hero ball on his first chance by rounding three defenders but got shut out on his lay-up attempt as they forced him too far back. Mattisseck was on the floor with him, the first outing of the afternoon for the two kids whose ages combined are the same as Zisis.
Last few moments of the first half and the place took oof again with the roar of Alba, Alba, thorough the timeout. No break for entertainment here. Giedraitis to Mattisseck, he goes to the left elbow, can’t see and option, a step-back three attempt, no good but Johannes Thiemann is there for the rebound and to draw a foul. From the line he takes care of business. 52-49 at the half and the machine is moving.
Peno, the only healthy guard that usually saw heavy minutes, was still frisky at the start of the second half. Even with the bodies missing, Alba weren’t changing their approach to this game. No Ken Saibou, no Martin Hermannsson, and, most of all, no Peyton Siva for Alba. This was a team missing key pieces and still sticking to the plan. This is how Aito Garcia wants them to play and that’s the way they are going to. A buzzer beating three by Rice from Steph Curry territory? No bother, they come right back and respond in kind through Clint Chapman.
The pace however was finally more somewhere that Bamberg liked and Peno could smell it. Alba were up on the scoreboard but this wasn’t the constant run of buckets at both ends that had suited them through the opening 20 minutes. Mattisseck returned to the line-up to make it a nimble back court for the hosts. Peno moved to the 2 to let the kid take the handle and they combined for a nice baseline score. Peno working from the low post moved it out, eventually getting to the youngster in open territory for the finish.
Rice was finally awake. After a couple of free throws he made a steal and then ran up the floor to finish with a lay-up. Then he fed Jelovac inside and the visitors had the lead back. He was ready for Berlin’s running game and, with that same relaxed face, whatever it was Ainars Bagatskis was shouting at him from the sideline.
With Wagner back in, Alba had gone young again to close out the third. Giffey, at 27, was the oldest man on the floor for Berlin, working alongside Mattisseck, 24 year old Thiemann, and 21 year old Tim Schneider. Thiemann, to his credit, has the facial hair of a haggard 12 year vet who has seen too many wars. He landed a three on the buzzer to keep the home side just in front entering the fourth, 75-74.
The red corner of Bamberg fans to the far left of me kept waving their flags and cheering hard but they were being drowned out on the road. The noise doesn’t match the claustrophobic intensity of the Brose Arena, instead it’s like it looms and then comes in to hang with you, growing louder with its approach. It’s a chronic threat that occasionally explodes, as it did with Luke Sikma drawing an and-1 on a routine lay-up inside.
The scoring in this game would give the impression that everyone just landed everything. Far from it, there were multiple points during the action where the scoring slowed to a trickle. The early part of the fourth saw neither side making much headway. The difference was that when the action was flowing, the scores came in bunches and fast. Still, the final frame saw Alba’s first shot clock violation of the game as Bamberg looked to have finally gotten some authority on the tone of proceedings.
Mid fourth and Alba are looking for an option. They’d only managed 4 points through over 5 minutes and were getting caught in some stop-start action. To their aid was that Bamberg had only managed 6 in the same spell. Giffey, long two. The lead was back and the crowd was rowdy. Then they force a shot clock violation of Bamberg as a fan from the hardcore section ran along, with approval, in front of press row to rile up the rest of the crowd. Chapman their captain made a two-handed slam and the whole place was in song. Mattisseck clapped along as Rice waited for the all clear inbounds. The Bamberg guard tied it up once more from deep.
The lowest scoring quarter of the night was proving its most tense. Mattisseck almost lost his handle in front of Rice, he recovered to drive inside but was well defended by Rubit. The scores remained level as Alba called timeout 47.8 seconds from the gun. Rubit tries to get some but Giedraitis is having none of it, getting his hand on the shot. Alba recover and the big Lithuanian then made his fifth three of the night to give them the lead with 23.8 seconds left on the clock.
Rice had a chance to tie from deep but found iron. Peno extended it from the line. Job done. Alba moved to 6-1. The kids are in good hands.
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