THe 2014/15 Euroleague season tipped off in Vitoria, Zeb Benbrook gives his thoughts on a big win for Baskonia.
Davis Bertans looked like one of the world’s elite catch and shoot players while Thomas Huertel managed to rack up double digit assists in just 30 minutes of action. Those were the types of breakout performances we saw from Laboral Kutxa/Saski Baskonia’s players in their 88-69 route of Neptunas Klaipeda. Baskonia was a step ahead of Neptunas offensively the entire game, allowing them to play at a more relaxed pace.
Such was the plan of Baskonia coach Marco Crespi. When asked after the game, Crespi stated that his side’s goal was to get through ideal sets in a half-court offense, while also limiting Neptunas’ ability to shoot the three on the other end. The strategy worked, as Neptunas couldn’t hit a triple to save their lives. Neptunas would finish an atrocious 4 of 26 from three for the game, but that mostly represented their second half struggles. Neptunas’ offense was much more paint focused in the first half, as they used frequent high post pick and rolls to take advantage of Laboral’s slow bigs (Tillie, Iverson, Bertans, White). Neptunas did find success doing that, and were even able to draw themselves into the bonus during three of the quarters in tonight’s game.
Still, it was obvious that Neptunas’ plan was one dimensional. The only players who scould score with any regularity were Donatas Zavackas and Simas Galdikas, both of whom lived at the line and don’t normally score double digits. The rest of Neptunas failed massively at shooting from the floor, and couldn’t move the ball very effectively past the first two passes. American import Mustafa Shakur looked particularly shaky, as he missed in-rhythm jumpers and wasn’t aggressive enough near the rim. The end result of all this was a Neptunas team that found themselves without any reliable offensive options in the second half.
Defensively, Neptunas basically played a zone and did all they could to protect the basket. It was a high pressure zone, though, and there were times that Neptunas would attempt to trap Baskonia in the backcourt. Neptunas found some success, but that trapping is the source of a lot of Huertel’s assists. In any case, Baskonia was basically able to get any shot they wanted from the perimeter, which would explain Huertel’s 5 of 7 from the floor and Bertans’ 8 of 13 from the floor. San Emeterio and Shengelia were more athletic in how they got their 24 combined points for Baskonia, though. San Emeterio was given a few isolation plays, while Shengelia worked from the weak side. In any case, it could be argued that Shengelia and San Emeterio were the difference for Baskonia tonight, as Neptunas had nobody stepping up in a similar role.
Moving forward, the biggest area of concern for the ACB team has to be their lack of a paint presence on D. Their arrangement of big men is offensively proficient, but they’re going to have to find a way to compensate down low. Perhaps Baskonia won’t defend the three against other teams as hard as they’ve defended it against Neptunas, but it’s hard to find moments of post D greatness from them in this game. In any case, as long as they continue to push the pace, move the ball well, and adjust their D to their opponent, they should be fine.
On Neptunas’ end, the team needs to get better about communicating on defense. They went through a couple of collapses during the early second and late third quarters, mostly related to covering the floor in a fast break situation. They had the personnel down the floor, but the defenders weren’t tight enough on the perimeter, allowing the hosts to fire off some easy shots. Furthermore, during a critical moment of the third, the coach of Neptunas called a timeout while his team had a 4-3 advantage coming up the floor. That’s another easily correctable error, and something than Neptunas will hope to iron out over the course of the season.
Neptunas next game: Vs Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade, Thursday, 23 October.
Baskonia next game: At Olympiacos Piraeus, Friday, 24 October.