Better late than never (totally BiE’s fault, let me tell you) comes Ball in Europe’s dispatch from Francesco Cappelletti rounding up the week that was in Euroleague basketball. For your amusement and edification, Francesco discusses, among other topics, the Terrell McIntyre Backup Curse, which teams should sweep into the Final Four, why Maccabi Tel Aviv is so good in 2009-10 and why Cibona Zagreb should be awesome in 2010-11.
When a Bojan Bogdanovic-less Cibona Zagreb was up 72-58 with three minutes to go, Caja Laboral’s nightmare was very close to become reality. Then, a 17-2 run handled by Marcelinho Huertas turned the lights out for an overtime everyone knew would not be balanced at all. Baskonia scored 24 points in five minutes to ensure a gap BC Khimki couldn’t fill. With radio and voices running, the 22 point-margin BC Khimki had over Olympiacos to begin the fourth quarter, eventually becoming a 96-83 final score, was insufficient to reach second place in Group H.
Dusko Ivanovic can breathe again now, as his team qualified for the playoffs. But we have to thank Cibona, which was able to play their game even after elimination, just for the love of the game.
The other thrilling game was staged in Madrid, where Real and Maccabi Tel Aviv played for first place in Group F. Pini Gershon has fortified his nomination for the Coach of the Year trophy by winning a match nobody thought he could to chase a 21-point first half. Then, one week after the 43 points laid on Montepaschi Siena in the last 10 minutes, Maccabi turned on the scoring machine again: 30 points in the final period against Real Madrid in Palacio Vistalegre is almost the same result, probably even better number if we consider the game’s context and the Israeli side’s offensive problems over the previous 30 minutes (the third quarter ended 45-36 in favor of the Blancos).
Two exciting games, two different signs: Caja Laboral can even be said to have depended on the 0-for-4 from the free throw line by Leon Radosevic in the final 30 seconds (and over to the missed triple by Jamont Gordon with the buzzer sounding) of regulation time; on the other hand, Maccabi won the game by itself, not due to Real’s faults or distractions. This says Maccabi Tel Aviv really is a team conscious of its force and is ready to attack the Final Four, while Baskonia will pay for its shortcomings (mainly chemistry) in the quarterfinals against CSKA Moscow.
Euroleague’s format reminds us the quarterfinals are played on best-of-five series. Well, we are curious to see how many series will have a Game 5. I’ll take a risk and say none will.
Regal FC Barcelona has looked, in every corner of Europe, as the All-Star team that can’t let this opportunity to triumph slip away. Barça has an epic upcoming battle with Real Madrid, who was just beaten 79-57 on the road in ACB and 80-61 in the Copa del Rey final.
This is what is arriving from the Capital: “Everyone in Europe thinks that we have no chance against Barcelona, but we will fight and play hard,” said Ettore Messina, never heard so submissive; “We have to bounce back and play intense against Barcelona, but the Euroleague rarely gives second chances” said Pablo Prigioni; “We must play really tough to beat Barcelona,” said Sergio Llull.
What’s that spell? Yes: F-E-A-R.
Messina could surprise, but this Real team is not the squad of which he dreamed in the summer. The Maccabi Tel Aviv-Partizan Belgrade playoff will send an unexpected team to Paris, even if the Israelis are used to getting invited to the final dance. Maccabi is clearly the favourite, because of talent, length of the roster, and player experience, but we still want to see how the Pionir factor will weigh on a squad that has no problem showing its best face even far from Yad Eliyahu. Oh, and don’t forget the tactical aspect, crucial in a challenge between the two best coaches in Europe.
Asseco Prokom wasted the opportunity to have convincing trainings against eliminated Zalgiris Kaunas and Unicaja Malaga, losing 93-88 and 63-82, respectively. Minds were understandably directed to Olympiacos, but Prokom will meet the Reds with a month of no-competition matches behind them. That’s why a 3-0 is the prediction, despite the ready-for-revenge Qyntel Woods: Against his former team, will Woods collapse or will he finally emerge when it counts?
Caja Laboral has to rely on the Fernando Buesa Arena’s effect in trying to play a trick on CSKA Moscow, now at the top of their development as a team. The young pieces have found a role, Viktor Khryapa is solid as has never happened in his career, and there Trajan Langdon-Ramunas Siskauskas-J.R. Holden unit which knows these type of matches better than anyone.
A reason to shine, a reason to cry
If Tiago Splitter flies overseas to Texas (or maybe to Madrid?), Caja Laboral has seen how the Mirza Teletovic-Stanko Barac duo can be decisive. The Bosnian forward is 25 years old, the Croatian was born in 1987: The future is their property.
Unfortunately for Baskonia, the same cannot be said about the backcourt, where the absence of a great scorer, in place of normal shooters like Carl English and Brad Oleson, is evident. Fernando San Emeterio may aspire to a starting five spot alongside a guard averaging 15-17 points rather than a white guy who turns it on one night a month.
Cibona Zagreb is one of the best stories Euroleague has produced this year. Financially depressed, declared a swindle by one US player (Antonio Graves), Cibona has demonstrated the value and trust which must be given young players. Bojan Bogdanovic and Marko Tomas are two stabs taken at Real Madrid management, and Leon Radosevic more than Tomislav Zubcic has shown his skills across the most difficult courts of The Continent. Next year, Zagreb can restart from a very secure group (Vedran Vukusic, Andric, Marin Rozic), while Jamont Gordon could repeat the path walked by Alan Anderson.
Those who have reasons to cry are Milenko Tepic and Nikos Zisis. Tepic must rebuild his career at the elite level after an year of bench with Panathinaikos, and Zisis is the latest to be hit with the Terrell McIntyre Backup Curse: Prior to Zisis, Vlado Ilievski and Morris Finley had both failed in such a position.
Another club which must think about closing window of opportunity is BC Khimki. Khimki proves that great players and a great coach don’t guarantee a Final Four appearance, and it’s up to them to discharge those who have failed (no. 1 suspect: Robertas Javtokas), on the way to freeing up space for those young Russians whose tasks are bigger in CSKA than in Moscow region. Timofey Mozgov is the best supporting and living model to explain this shame.
Is David Hawkins Euroleague worthy? At the moment, he’s not the right replacement for Rimas Kaukenas; he has a two-year contract with Montepaschi Siena and will probably be the cornerstone of a team which will lose McIntyre and Romain Sato, but Hawkins must improve his basketball to stay in Euroleague … Charles Smith, at the age of 35, has been Efes Pilsen’s best player during the Top 16 and thus has earned another year with a title contender in Turkey or whatever other European league … a DNP for Novica Velickovic in the Real Madrid-Maccabi match means the summer market adds a valuable piece … Bojan Popovic was not a great pickup by Efes Pilsen, averaging 3.3 points in 13 minutes: Were Kerem Tunceri and Ender Arslan really worse options…?