It’s time for the look back at the wacky Euroleague week that was with Francesco Cappelletti. This week, BallinEurope’s man in Italy examines messing with rotations in Olympiacos and Unicaja; praises Partizan for the potential blueprint win over FC Barcelona; and chides the narcissistic defending champions for their shameful general laziness.
No instant replay, Partizan wins
The rule says that, when the buzzer sounds, the ball is no longer playable. This was the reason for the theatrical scene in Belgrade, wherein instant replay helped coaches and referees solve a risky situation. Pete Mickeal went with the hook shot over Slavko Vranes at the end of the overtime, and Lawrence Roberts swept the ball away from the rim. If the ball was over the rim, referees must make a goaltending call and Regal FC Barcelona credit for the (unmade) basket and the away win. But the ball was considered not fully over the rim, so Roberts’ action was legal.
Luckily, Partizan won. They deserved it. One week after having beaten Panathinaikos in Athens, the Serbian boys stopped the best team in Europe and made them play like no other had before. Dule Vujosevic can really aspire to stand on the podium of European coaches alongside Ettore Messina and Zelimir Obradovic, not only for his ability to develop young prospects in a hurry but also for his tactical knowledge: This week’s game was an example of how a coach can influence a game closed in the forecasts.
Partizan played the same game as OAKA, slowing down play and putting pressure on the best offensive men among the Spanish (Juan Carlos Navarro and Erazem Lorbek). Whenever they needed a foul to avoid an easy basket, they got it; whenever they had a mismatch in the paint, they played to it; whenever they saw an opposite lineup against whom they couldn’t defend one-on-one, they went zone.
The 24 points scored by Boniface N’dong and teammates in the first 24 minutes are a bit better than the 19 scored by Panathinaikos in the last 24 one week ago, and that was due to Vujosevic’s mastery. Vujosevic called for a zone for the last defensive stand, while Xavi Pascual expected everything except that: The shot taken by Mickeal wasn’t the one Barcelona wanted, and came after moments of hesitation and panic, with Navarro and Jaka Lakovic unprepared.
Partizan is worthy of first place in Group E, no doubt. And with Aleks Maric close to coming back, they can believe in it.
Drama in Group E
With three Final Four candidates and a club like Maccabi Tel Aviv, Group F was supposed to be the tough one; we didn’t say the same for Group E, with Regal FC Barcelona and Panathinaikos prohibitive favorites to dominate and playing for first place between themselves.
So, what’s happened in two weeks? We have Partizan at 2-0, Barcelona and BC Maroussi at 1-1, and above (or below) all Panathinaikos at 0-2. That’s the real drama of 2009-2010 Top 16. Everyone knows it’s too early to count the defending champions out of the competition – going 3-0 in the last three games could be sufficient – but at the moment they’re suspected not to reach the playoffs. The home loss to Partizan has now been followed by an inexcusable loss at OAKA. To Maroussi.
Pana looks like a beautiful (if none too clever), narcissistic girl: This time isn’t able to close a game, nor build or maintain an advantage, nor exploit their bench to tire rivals without the same depth or talent. Maroussi simply believed that Panathinaikos was not mentally the bulldozer admired one year ago (Obradovic should be somewhat ashamed for this, even if he nearly never lined up injured leader Sarunas Jasikevicius), and the seven three-pointers (Billy Keys with four, Pat Calathes two, and Batis one) in the last 11 minutes demonstrated that they were right.
Behind Nikola Pekovic’s 19 points in the first half (Why was he not used in the second half, not even when Dimitrios Mavroeidis was on the court?), the Greens earned a 10-point lead to go up 53-43 at the beginning of third quarter, then they turned the lights off. The game’s final play was representative: Dimitris Diamantidis wanted the ball and Drew Nicholas denied him, ending the match with a typical turnover from one who hopes to become the man of the match but has no idea how to do so.
Next week, Panathinaikos goes to Barcelona, a test to check the real intentions of the squad: Winning is not obligatory for the Greek team, but they need a strong reaction to believe their quest to repeat is alive.
Unexpected platoon systems and (fuck the) system
Logically, the Euroleague Top 16 is not the right place to extend rotations or trying new solutions, but Panayotis Yannakis is thinking about thing in a different way. Starting from the reality that “The purpose of each team coming to our house is to get us out of our rhythm,” the Greek coach has begun to use more players to keep the intensity high and avoiding becoming a halfcourt team.
Loukas Mavrokefalidis played just 19 minutes in two regular-season games; he has 13 points in 19 minutes overall in Top 16 play; Scoonie Penn is seen as the addition of experience and leadership Olympiacos needs – though Milos Teodosic’s was named Euroleague MVP for January, you can forget him as leader due to a crazy and just offensive attitude – so 21.5 minutes per Top 16 game is the consequence.
Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Nikola Vujcic are also asking for more time, giving Olympiacos even more options: The Reds can hold the pace up for 40 minutes and, even if on the defensive end they need some work, opponents are destroyed by an offense which scores 88.3 points per game.
Another revolutionary move in rotations, maybe because of the early going in which not much confidence was found in any one player, is happening in Unicaja Malaga. Aito Garcia Reneses changed his backcourt just before the Top 16 started by adding Zabian Dowdell and Juan Dixon, while waiving Taquan Dean.
Of course, Dean didn’t prove to be the ideal shooting guard for a team hopelessly awaiting a 15-ppg guy, but the transactions made the situation worse: Dowdell’s been shot forth from the D-League into the starting five of an ambitious Euroleague team, and he’s still trying to understand where he is and what his duties are while going 2-of-10 from the floor in his first two games. Dixon’s making baskets – though not a flurry at 11 points and three turnovers per game – but he was decisive in Moscow … CSKA is still thanking him and his wicked plays during the last period. Further, Dixon has taken the ball out of Omar Cook’s hands on too many occasions, and former St.John’s point guard has seen his stats halved.
Did Unicaja need those changes? The answer is negative, as evidenced by the two losses in the first weeks, including the tragic fall to Asseco Prokom, which can now set sights on second place in Group G while defending a plus-20 margin in Poland.
Asseco Prokom has found the missing piece of the puzzle: battling center Adam Hrycaniuk, who provides defense and balance to a starting five full of me-first players … Without Tiago Splitter, Caja Laboral discovered Lior Eliyahu, the best in Zagreb with a season-high 22 points; thanks to Eliyahu and Carl English, Baskonia saved itself after going down by 17 points at 32-15 … Nikola Pekovic broke the 1000 Euroleague point barrier … The assist/turnover ratio of Milos Teodosic is something incredible: 4.4/1.6, and 5.0/1.5 in Top 16 play … Blustering Ettore Messina watched Marko Jaric and the others unable to get a shot off in 24 seconds twice in a row in the fourth period in Tel Aviv … In Group F, there’s too much nervousness: Montepaschi GM Ferdinando Minucci was ejected in Istanbul after shouting some trash to referee Romualdas Brazauskas … Alan Anderson clearly smells blood now that Top 16 play is here: He has 23 points on 66% two-point shooting and 54% on threes and 100% from the line to go with seven rebounds and 2.5 assists per game; against Real Madrid, Anderson had an index rating of 40…