Which team has already clinched a Euroleague Final Four spot? Who’s most to blame for Panathinaikos’ loss? What did Ergin Ataman do wrong? And why did Aito Garcia Reneses pull Cesar Augusto Lima with seven minutes to play? These questions are answered – OK, not that last one: That one’s a real riddle for the ages – in this week’s Euroleague roundup by Francesco Cappelletti. Read on for full illumination.
Don’t be surprised
No Aleks Maric at OAKA, no prolems for Partizan Belgrade. Panathinaikos was stunned by the Serbians at the end of a game that coach Dusko Vujosevic interpreted correctly.
Counting on deep rotations and a physicality to balance Pana’s, Partizan played slowly and strength-oriented to protect the paint while alternating between man-to-man and zone defenses: a prime reason why Nikola Pekovic was not, as predicted, game MVP in a match he should have dominated near the basket against a faux center like Lawrence Roberts and a scheming Slavko Vranes. Instead, Roberts scored 12 points and added 10 rebounds, while Vranes blocked four shots to stay on court for 31 minutes while not preoccupied by the Greek frontline.
During his 32 minutes of play, Pekovic didn’t shine at all, perhaps because his preferred pick-and-roll teammate Sarunas Jasikevicius wasn’t in his best shape (and scored just six points on 2-of-9 shooting in 11 minutes). With Dimitris Diamantidis just coming back from the injury, the Spanoulis-Nicholas duo was not looking like what team needed, and PAO scored 19 points (!) in the last 20 with no alternatives beyond the backcourt.
Marcus Haislip provides athleticism, but is not the classical power forward that Zeljko Obradovic awaits; Giorgi Shermadini has too little continuity and experience. So Pekovic was shut down, thanks to too much perimeter play and too many isolations. On the other hand, Partizan must be proud of Jan Vesely, who really looked like a lottery pick in the next NBA Draft: By giving him more space, and putting Maric back in the fight, Partizan can now focus on second place in Group E, for real.
Two huge mistakes were made by losing coaches in this first week of Euroleague Top 16. In Moscow, Aito Garcia Reneses took 18-year-old Augusto Cesar Lima out with seven minutes left to play and Unicaja recovering at 67-59. Until that moment, the threat of Viktor Khryapa had been cancelled out by the Brazilian’s long arms and speedy feet; after Lima’s exit, the former Chicago Bull filled out his boxscore with eight points, two steals, two assists and a crucial block on a Juan Dixon three-point attempt. Khryapa simply clowned the newly-entered Georgios Printezis, deciding what could turn out to be a Group G tiebreaker.
The other coach who has to focus on his work is Ergin Ataman. Efes Pilsen led for the most part at Palacio Vistalegre, but when Real Madrid put it into gear in the last quarter, Ataman insisted on sticking to the small lineup used in the first half with Preston Shumpert as power forward. The result: more involvement of the Spanish big men, a less incisive Shumpert, great spacing in the three-point area for Marko Jaric and Sergio Llull to attack the basket. Meanwhile, Ermal Kuqo was disastrous in the final five minutes.
Ataman’s team lost by seven points, not an impossible margin to overcome in Istanbul, and should have understood that Mario Kasun, a key player in the third quarter for Efes Pilsen, was the best solution to anchor the paint, and should have countered with a standard frontcourt when Ettore Messina went with Felipe Reyes and Jorge Garbajosa.
Did anyone see the Montepaschi Siena-Maccabi Tel Aviv game? Well, tell me if it’s false that either team looked like their opponents. Siena wasn’t Siena, but rather body doubles.
Simone Pianigiani had never won against Maccabi, and Montepaschi had gone 0-9 against Tel Aviv all-time; all this tension poured into a match that, in normal conditions, Romain Sato and teammates should have won by 15 to 20 points. But Pini Gershon is a nightmare for Siena, even if he employs a squad without a point guard – Andrew Wisniewski? Kendrick Perkins, who can’t handle the ball? – and not talent-packed as in recent years; Maccabi *is* Alan Anderson, often the only solution in an offensive playbook hardly condusive to ball movement and readings.
Terrell McIntyre played the second-worst game in his entire Euroleague career (three points on 0-of-7 from long range and a minus-3 ranking just barely better just than the minus-8 he posted against CSKA Moscow in October 2007), while the team’s 4-of-18 (22%) shooting from beyond the arc is very far from the 45% which put Montepaschi atop the table in this statistic in the regular season.
Thanks to an excellent Benjamin Eze and sixth man Henry Domercant (glacial in the fourth quarter), Pianigiani became the first coach to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv in Siena history. And he knows a four-point margin is a minimum to defend in Yad Elyahu.
Bon voyage, Olympiacos!
We can say Olympiacos is already in Paris after their convincing win atBaskonia. With the homecourt advantage against the second-place finisher in Group G (Unicaja Malaga?), it’s clear they can’t lose a trip to the Final Four. What’s more, against Caja Laboral the Reds showed a step in maturity from a club that hadn’t believed.
Ahead throughout, Olympiacos withheld two or three comebacks by the hosts, but even when Marcelinho Huertas hoisted his squad to a five-point leads (at 59-54 and 63-58), Olympiacos found the capacity to restore the gap, with Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza the main players in a 9-0 run that broke open the game.
If the former NBA stars are so composed until May, it may be quite a feat to win against this skilled team now going beyond Milos Teodosic, established as one of the top three European playmakers.