With a scene-shifting week three of Euroleague Top 16 play in the books, BallinEurope’s Francesco Cappelletti defines his surprise, from Montepaschi’s masterful play to Sasha Kaun’s success to the curse of a Panathinaikos title defense, and more. Read on!
Pianigiani’s lesson to Messina
“I think it was a masterpiece from my players. One of the most difficult games since I started coaching. We were tired, consumed, without an important player against a team that could exploit our problems. We’ll enjoy this night to the fullest”: With these words and a smiling face, coach Simone Pianigiani commented on the game between Montepaschi and Real Madrid.
Honestly, he was right; Siena got the expected reaction after a disastrous exhibition in Istanbul, but the win was huge, much more than the fans and staff were waiting for. Even more so because the victory came despite the absence of Ksistof Lavrinovic, a player as key as only Terrell McIntyre is. Real wanted Montepaschi to play a slow game, to defend strongly and to deny the top facets of the Italians’ game: fastbreaks and transition play.
That plan worked for the first four minutes, before T-Mc began runnig the floor and Ettore Messina found himself down in a hurry, by nine points after a 13-0 run made it 21-12. From there, the match was all MPS, as Real was unable to restore its rhythm (the only way to beat Siena at home was by letting the clock wind down 20 seconds while finding solutions near the basket) and suffered from the large rotations Messina employed – for reasons not always clear, especially his selections from among the big men. Jorge Garbajosa was on the court in the fourth quarter: Why? Novica Velickovic was on-and-off from the bench, Darjus Lavrinovic played the entire second half (ultimately scoring 22 points) while he never saw the ball in the first, and Ante Tomic … well, it wasn’t his game.
On the other side, a swaggering McIntyre kept on nailing threes, but he didn’t forget to prime Denis Marconato, who appeared in form we haven’t seen since his days with Benetton Treviso. Called on by Pianigiani due to the foul troubles of Shaun Stonerook and Benjamin Eze (each had two after just five minutes of play), Marconato made the difference on his end of the floor and offensively supplied screens which to define as “tough” would be euphemistic. For further information, ask Sergio Llull and Pablo Prigioni. Marconato also blocked two decisive shots on Tomic and Lavrinovic in the last period, and scored on those marvelous passes (gifts) McIntyre bestowed on him.
By the way, it wasn’t all about the McIntyre-Marconato duo carrying Montepaschi to victory; Henry Domercant’s baskets were crucial and Romain Sato drove Marko Jaric crazy. Rimas Kaukenas destroyed his heir David Hawkins, a cold comfort. Now Real Madrid has two main problems: a big hole at small forward position and a less-than-dynamic playbook too dependent on big men. In a pool like Group F, these weaknesses could be enough to keep them out of the elimination round.
He’s white, he’s young, and he can jump!
If someone had told me this summer that Sasha Kaun would be MVP of a Top 16 game as the starting center for CSKA Moscow, I probably would have replied with a noisy laugh. My fault, then, because that’s happened Wednesday when Kaun overshadowed Asseco Prokom for first place in Group G.
For one who loves European players, it’s a pleasure to see a 24-year-old Russian playing for one of the most important Euroleague clubs, pushing past former NBA player Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Kaun has simply carried out a path begun six years ago at Kansas University (where he learned by practicing with Wayne Simien, Darrell Arthur, and Cole Aldrich) and continued at Moscow with a team that trusts him blindly, as his three-year, €2.7 million contract confirms.
Is this the right way to develop? We don’t want to say every prospect has to cross the ocean to join a elite NCAA program, but for those youngsters who haven’t the opportunity to play on their teams in their countries, it’s often recommended. Kaun is a practical example of this idea.
It’s unusual that CSKA would give a local boy this opportunity, but it was given to Kaun, once his growth in the US was verified. To make a comparison: there’s little evidence to consider the transfer of Mario Delas from KK Split to Zalgiris Kaunas as a step forward in his young career. Yeah, since he wasn’t in Lithuania he wasn’t showcased in the Euroleague and he’s not yet 20, but how can he round into a quality big man by playing with tutors like Travis Watson and Mirza Begic, losing every game played in Europe? At his age, Delas must search for a solution which allows him to play and learn at the same time: whether the NCAA or a more competitive reality than Baltic League, the choice is unlimited. Despite Delas’ age, his value risks decreasing after this experience (7.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in Euroleague Top 16 play). Not a good start for a boy who just dominated the past U19 World Championships with bronze medalist Croatia.
Eastern revenge and contenders on the verge of falling
Few but good, the teams of Eastern Europe are still alive in the race for Euroleague playoff spots: Prokom showed its win in Malaga wasn’t a fluke at Moscow, where it fought until the final minutes; BC Khimki was team of the week after a great blowout in Baskonia; and CSKA Moscow is sailing to another Final Four. These teams are a positive exception into an overview of failures and disappointing seasons, mainly caused by the economic crisis.
In contrast, Panathinaikos is toiling again in defending a Euroleague title – the Greens were eliminated in the Top 16 both in 2002-2003 and in 2007-2008, less than 12 months after celebrating the trophy – while Caja Laboral is close to falling short of the Final Four in back-to-back seasons after having played four consecutive years. PAO seems devoid of motivation and energy.
In Spain, coach Dusko Ivanovic is doing his worst by not giving a headliner to the team, lost in a backcourt rotation which involves eight players in six spots, resulting this week in four minutes given to Taquan Dean and 26 granted Pau Ribas. The next game will be the test to see if they still have Devotion.
The disciplinary judge rejected Regal FC Barcelona’s complaints: Last week in Belgrade, Barça couldn’t demand the instant replay, the use of which is reserved for scored shots or fouls committed with no time remaining in the main clock at the end of a quarter or overtime … Ioannis Bourousis injured and some problems against an aggressive Cibona: Nikola Vujcic remembered the happy times and drove Olympiacos to the win with 10 points in the last eight minutes … BC Maroussi’s two points in the second quarter set a new Euroleague low, as was the 22-18 score at the end of the first half … Prior to this week, Montepaschi was fourth in Group F with a minus-1 scoring differential; now it’s first thanks to victorious match against Maccabi Tel Aviv … Revolution in Kaunas: Ramunas Butautas is coach no more, and sporting director Algirdas Brazys has also been removed from his job…