The second part of BiE’s two-legged German adventure was in the Audi Dome as FC Bayern hosted FC Barcelona in Round 6 of Euroleague’s regular season.
Even I have limits. Sure there’s beer in the fridge of the press room but I’m not touching that until someone else does. Besides, I’d already had a couple with my dinner in town. Colcannon is an Irish dish with a name that makes the dish sound far more complex than it is. It’s just mashed spuds with cabbage but it hit the spot nicely. In classic Irish style, Kennedy’s bar had been recommended by a buddy whose uncle owns it. None of his relatives were on site but hearing the barman switch between Dublin and Bavarian accents depending on whether he spoke English or German was amusing.
Barcelona arrived in Munich with everything going as normal for them in the autumn, unbeaten in Euroleage and 6-1 in ACB play. The hosts however are at a point of crisis partly down to over-achieving last year. Bayern’s Bundesliga title wasn’t a shock but they flirted seriously with making the Euroleague playoffs, an extraordinary ascension for a team that was in its debut Euroleague season and only its third in Germany’s top flight.
The descent at home can at least be partially put down to a European hangover at weekends and a 7-2 start in Bundesliga play alone would be nothing to panic over but a 1-4 start in the toughest group of Euroleague’s regular season has the Bavarians in need of wins fast if they are to make the Top 16. Enter Bo McCalebb, fresh of a misadventure with Fenerbahce but only two years removed from being one of the most dangerous players in Europe. The American signed for a month earlier this week. It’s a case of get Bayern to the Top 16 or get out of town.
The atmosphere before tip was sedate. While the crowd started to get rowdy 30 minutes before tip in Bamberg, it was much more relaxed 20 minutes from the start of this one. The first reaction was from the PA announcing the arrival of McCalebb, who got a solid applause and a ‘Bo Bo’ soundtrack.
And then boom, some hardcore Eurodance with 1980s neon got the crowd going for player intros. I was warned by David Hein last night that the fans in front of press row would making viewing the floor challenging and this was an inauspiscious start. The fans kept the constant bang going right through Devotion and the tip until Robin Benzing’s game opening lay-up. McCalebb scored his first points in a Bayern jersey soon after and the crowd was seated but plenty loud.
Bo looked like he was eager to be the Bo we know but he was showing all the rust of a man who hasn’t played a competitive game in months. To his credit, McCalebb looked to be trying to play through this issue rather than around it and put in Benzing for another score soon after. Midway through the first however Barcelona looked calm and led 8-10. The list of Bayern celebrities, soccer ones naturally, in the house like Rummenige, Robben, and Badstuber were announced over the PA. It’s a long while yet before it’s Bayern ballers of old being announced here, although Frank Delaney would probably get a wild reaction.
Off the timeout, the initial burst seemed to be gone from the home side’s step. Barcelona were creating chances and, notably through DeShaun Thomas, were making their physical superiority stand out. Even Vasilije Micic’s abnormal height for a point guard didn’t stand out. The Serbian, who was drafted by the 76ers in June, started to make his presence felt as the first frame wore on. Despite the score being tight, Barca’s depth was already making an impact. With 10 minutes on the clock, the visitors led 17-22.
Threes from Maciej Lampe and Bostjan Nachbar made it a gap. McCalebb came back in because this is the type of situation you sign Bo McCalebb for, to stop a jam becoming a problem and to cause the other guy plenty of them. The problem is Bo hasn’t done that on a regular basis since he left Siena. Barcelona were turning the screw without even trying all that hard. The lead grew to 23-39 on a casual Juan Carlos Navarro effort on the buzzer. The crowd took to their feet, as much because it could be the last worthwhile time to do in this game as much as to give their men a boost.
It’s barely a month since Bayern ran with Barcelona for the full 40 minutes in Palau Blaugrana but the stark nature of the problem was obvious from that big run for the visitors to the Audi Dome. Defensively Bayern have gaps everywhere. At this level they can’t just out-gun their opponents and with Barcelona leading 29-50 with plenty of time left in the half, the situation was grim. Bo or no Bo, Bayern looked a shadow of who they were in Round 1 never mind last season.
Mario Hezonja looked useful in spot play through the half and put Nachbar in to widen the gap further. Benzing was still giving it everything, going over the hoarding in a failed attempt to keep a turnover in bounds. Effort wasn’t the problem with the Bavarians, it was defence or rather the complete absence of it. At the half it was 39-60 and I was regretting not grabbing one of those beers earlier.
The handful of Barcelona fans in town relaxed and took snaps around the arena at the half. The Munich supporters seemed far from stressed. This was never a game they had down as a likely W at the start of the season, particularly given the gulf in talent, and they know that what’s wrong isn’t going to get fixed the night of McCalebb’s first game in town.
That calm should be appreciated but Bayern’s D doesn’t need work or reinvention. It’s a ground up job. Nihad Djedovic, Micic, and Benzing are ample evidence of a team with scoring options but they are rudderless in their own half-court. Every wide open Barca shot drained the emotion out of the arena that little bit more. The margin wasn’t even growing much but the visitors looked even more in control. Marcelinho Huertas and Amte Tomic just had to look for each other to carve throigj the interior. At the end of three it was 60-81 and Barcelona were where they had been from the off, in control.
As for McCalebb, he was just looking to get sharp. A score early in the fourth coupled with some discoordinated hustle on D reminded the fans that the new man was in fact on the floor. As the final frame wore on he found Dusko Savanovic for a three but his line read like that of a player still at the start of camp. In the month they have him, Bayern need Bo to be much more than that.
Hezonja, a man hardly getting heavy minutes in Euroleague, showed why so many observers want to see more of him on the floor. He exchanged passes with Alex Abrines before putting in Tomas Satoransky for the dunk in a move that ran the length of the court.
Micic had his time to shine at the death, with a turnover to put in Yassin Idbihi but this wasn’t a night for him to remind anyone of why he was drafted. There were moments for sure but the combination of the gulf in class across the floor and splitting minutes with McCalebb made life tough for him.
It ended 75-99 and Barcelona remained perfect in Group C. For Bayern, the road to the Top 16 is no different than it was at the start. In Europe, this team is in a hole in can climb out of. At home it’s about arresting a decline to at least ensure home court through the first two rounds of the Bundesliga playoffs. It’s still early in that season but the reigning champions showed no signs of progress being imminent in this outing. Tough lessons are only useful if you come out better for it.