It started out so well but Reyer Venezia got flat fast before eventually closing out a win over a game Fribourg. Emmet Ryan was in Venice to take in the action
Gonna fly now roared through a largely full Palasport Talierico in what seemed a touch misplaced move. I’m sure it’s normal but Reyer Venezia could hardly have seen themselves in the Rocky role, even if their recent rise has been of that nature. Their opponents, Fribourg Olympic, had enjoyed an extraordinary run just to get to the regular season of the Basketball Champions League and, besides, the Swiss club had already been eliminated whereas Reyer had locked up their place in the playoffs a week ago. Apollo Creed, Fribourg were not.
There was a bit shakiness to Reyer’s offence early but Stefano Tonut wasn’t here to take the night off. Even in warm-ups he looked just plain bubbling to go and a pair of quick scores by the Italian forced the first timeout of the night from the visitors. He kept going after it, weaving his way however he liked and even getting a lucky bounce or three on one score. His first time taking a seat would be warmly received by the home support.
Reyer’s hardcore fans were in the emptiest section of the arena with a trio keeping their backs to the court, leading the couple of dozen chanting and waving a tifo. Walter de Raffaele probably appreciated them but he was too busy looking disappointed as his side kept pushing ahead. The scoring was irrelevant, he wasn’t happy with how they were doing it and that was that.
De Raffaele has managed to be the coolest coach in Europe pretty much on one element. Lots of coaches, especially Italians, wear nice suits. Plenty carry themselves like they own the room. De Raffaele just happens to do it wearing shades. Stick him in regular specs and he could be an accountant, instead he’s a cult figure on the scene here. Gasper Vidmar gave up an easy turnover under the basket and we got the first semi-gesticulation of the night from the Reyer coach.
This was his mood with his side building up a 17 point lead early. Once it hit 19 he applauded Austin Daye, gently. The job here is to have the team ready to make a run at a third trophy in as many years. Two years ago he brought this outfit to the BCL Final Four, the tournament’s first season before winning Serie A and having the greatest celebration in the history of sport. Last year’s FIBA Europe Cup title kept the taste for silver flowing. With Milano looking the power in Serie A, the BCL is comfortably his best chance at continuing the story through 2019.
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At the end of the first, this one was already getting out of hand as a Tomas Kyzlink three on the buzzer pushed the hosts into a 28-8 lead.
There are air fans in the arena now but it’s not always been noted as the easiest place to watch a game. A Serie A playoffs game here a couple of years ago had a stoppage due to some kind of power issue. That left everyone inside sweating buckets. Watching on a dodgy stream, this was before Eurosport delivered every Serie A game to Ireland in glorious HD, I was unsure as to whether the place had any aircon. Tweeting back to me, Sam Meyerkopf who was at the game assured me there was none.
It was pleasant in here for this one but the second quarter opened with a string of turnovers. Nobody could keep the ball in the half court. Reyer’s D was clearly giving Fribourg lots of trouble but the issues with the home side looked far more rudimentary. De Raffaele called a timeout to try and get their heads together, the lead was hardly in danger but focus was a far more important matter.
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A Kyzlink long two got a relieved cheer from the arena, although Andrea De Nicolao then let what looked an easy steal through his legs and Justin Roberson turned it into a three so it was hardly back to business. Tonut came back in midway through the quarter and the home crowd cheered as much in expectation that he’d get the pep this game needed back into it. Tonut unfortunately took a knock to the head right away and a lump appeared quickly. He sat on the bench with an ice pack as the sluggish second frame resumed.
The ad hoardings here are lined up in an interesting manner. The hard camera shows only the modern LED, cycling through hashtags, sports equipment, financial brands, the usual. The opposite is a far more quaint role of physical ads for places to eat chicken, get medicine, or coffee to buy.
For all Venezia’s lack of verve on offence, Fribourg weren’t doing anything to really trouble them. The lead wasn’t so much eaten into as lightly pecked at, like a kid or my father trying out an unfamiliar dish for the first time. Switzerland had a big home win over Russia way back in the qualifiers for EuroBasket 2015 but that side included Clint Capela. This one didn’t but it was still comfortably making the most noise by a team from there since that summer shocker. Their place in the qualifiers was expected to essentially be a direct route to the FIBA Europe Cup. Instead they managed to fight their way into a surprise regular season appearance, picking up three wins along the way.
Through 20 minutes, Reyer held a 40-26 lead.
Two of the Harlem Globetrotters performed at half-time to promote their show here on 3 March. It was comfortably better ballhandling than the previous quarter. Tonut was thankfully recovered and back to start the third albeit with the lump on his noggin still showing. A couple of quick scores from Roberson had brought this one back to just a 10 point game to give it the touch of competition it needed.
De Raffaele paced in disgust as he watched Andre Williamson at the line, bringing the gap back to single digits for the first time since awfully early on. Offensively, Reyer were a mess even with Tonut back on the floor. Eventually a mass switch happened and MarQuez Haynes came along with Kyzlink and Bruno Cerella.
Haynes has seen a lot of the game here. He’s the classic American guard over here, nose down, goes to work, with enough moments of explosion to be reliable. He’s above the standard a club like Reyer, for all of its tendency in recent years to hang around the top of Serie A, tends to get. Stints with Olimpia Milano and Maccabi Tel Aviv gave him some Euroleague exposure but not enough to hang on to a job at a top tier club. The breaks didn’t go his way, with short stops at Siena (when they were good) and Panathinaikos (where he did win a Greek Cup) before finding a real home in Venezia.
He’s been the guy here ever since. Wearing 0, because every player who ever felt under rated has a routine, Haynes has a public that adores him here and the opportunity to be a big part of a contending side. At 32, that’s not a bad spot to be and he gets to live in a gorgeous city while doing it. He’s also technically Georgian, taking the passport and playing for the national side all the way back in 2011 to count as a European on the roster.
Haynes went long to Kyzlink as the Venezia offence finally found some life again. Daye had finally broken their dry streak just before the mid point of the frame. Daye’s story is more familiar to most hoops fans. A big prospect out of Gonzaga, he bounced around the NBA before going on his grand tour. Jumping from Italy, first with Pesaro, to Bahrain, then Turkey, and finally Jerusalem, before settling in Reyer last season. He arrived in time to win the FIBA Europe Cup with them. He’s got the time to show he can do more over here but, again, he’s not in a bad place to ply his trade as it is.
A Cerella three got a roar from the crowd but this was till far too tight for the home side’s liking. Fribourg had found their appetite and were within 7 at the end of the third, trailing 49-42.
Walter? and he was just there hand on hip and occasionally giving swift hand signals. Nothing was getting him too fired up. He just wasn’t pleased. He had the assurance of a man who felt right to be annoyed when things were going well, there was no need to get worked up. A block bey Paul Biligha led to a fast break and De Raffaele gently issued instructions to a sprinting De Nicolao as he passed him.
A wide open dunk from Biligha pushed the lead back into double digits again. He hadn’t seen a whole lot of the floor up to this point but was making the most of the time he had now. Biligha was just looking to get his hands on the ball wherever it was. A relatively late bloomer, he became a fixture of Serie A in 2015 he finally made a dent with the national side two summers ago. He has clearly got all the athletic tools needed for an undersized big but, at 6’7″, he is undersized for a pure centre. De Raffaele brought him in for an explosion having opted for longer, if less thrilling, options for the bulk of the contest. Another block from Biligha, this time right in the face of Roberson.
A Tonut three right on the 2 minute mark removed any real doubt from the outcome. The only disappointment was he hadn’t been able to reimpose himself on the game after that thrilling stint to start the night. In closer mode, he was being smarter and safer with the ball, albeit giving up a needless turnover with a needle threading bounce pass to no-one in particular.
As the final minute ticked away, De Raffaele went from arms crossed to sitting on a box. The job was done but he had plenty to be irked by. Concentration, discipline, and consistency. That’;s what he’d be looking to work on as the meat and potatoes of Serie A resumes for the next month before entering the playoffs of this competition next month. Polite applause greeted the buzzer. Reyer with the win, 72-62.
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