Is there a more mystifying team in European basketball this season than Alba Berlin? Emmet Ryan writes about how last night’s upset of Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv is in line with the crazy season for the club from Germany’s capital city.
If it was just a case of who Alba Berlin beat, they would be fun and interesting but they wouldn’t be a mystery. We could talk about how this was a side punching above its weight and showing what can be achieved with a blend of confident play and opportunism. The scalps Alba have claimed this season are pretty incredible.
The German team @albaberlin has won against the reigning NBA champion, Euroleague champion, the Spanish & German champion this season.
— Fridolin Wernick (@frido03) February 12, 2015
That is a pretty gaudy line of victims. Sure the Spurs were in pre-season but it’s still a NBA team with a loaded roster, that’s a scalp. Bayern fell to Alba in the BBL Champions Cup after yanking all of the most valuable pieces of German talent worth having. Barcelona haven’t been their usual selves this season but they still went to Berlin with a 9-1 regular season record and an incredible record in the Top 16 in recent years. The Blaugrana got stomped in the third quarter and soundly fell 80-70. It was last night however that really jumped out.
Maccabi may not be the team that lifted the Euroleague title but they still had home-court, where they had already beaten Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Top 16, entered the game on a 5 game winning streak in Euroleague, having lost once in their last 9 games, and unbeaten in domestic competition since 10 November. This was not the Maccabi I saw that day against Hapoel Tel Aviv. This was a drilled unit that is designed to take care of a team like Alba. Instead this happened:
Once again it was a third quarter surge that carried Alba, not with the same authority as they beat Barca but the German league leaders went into the Nokia Arena and took the win. That’s no easy ask.
Yet, it’s not just about the check marks of who they have beaten.
Alba entered this game on the back of an 87-80 loss at Fraport Skyliners in the Bundesliga. I love the fans in Frankfurt but this is a mid-table team and the top sides in the Bundesliga don’t pick up too many Ls against those kinds of outfits. It’s not the result you expect 5 days before entering one of the most intimidating arenas in Europe and actually winning.
It took a 4-3 run in the last 7 games of the regular season for Alba to even make it this far, having dropped their opening 3 outings in Euroleague. The only truly surprising result in that stage for Alba was a 79-78 win over Unicaja Malaga and even that wasn’t exactly earth-shattering. No, it took until the Top 16 for matters to take a turn for the bizarre.
We know the Ws: vs Barcelona, at Galatasaray, at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Going 1-2 in those games would be seen as enough for Alba to still be in the playoff conversation if everything else is running smoothly. Instead they absolutely need to be 3-0 because they are 0-4 from at Zalgiris Kaunas, vs Real Madrid, at Crvena Zvezda, and vs Panathinaikos. Alba were underdogs in both of those home games but again, if we’re talking about a playoff team, they win the game against Panathinaikos or at least don’t get utterly stomped by Real. It’s those two road losses, the games Alba really need to be winning, that stick out.
Zvezda is a good team but it has reeked in the Top 16, except when Alba paid a visit and the Belgrade club promptly dismantled the Germans. Zalgiris are on nobody’s playoff radar, outside of Kaunas at least, and they cruised to a comfortable win over Alba just a week after that shock of Barcelona.
This was supposed to be the separation week in Group E. Barcelona did its part by widening the gap with Galatasaray. Real did likewise against Zalgiris and one would expect Panathinaikos to take care of Zvezda in the OAKA tonight.
Alba? They are a game out of the playoffs and fully playing the role of joker in the pack. When they win, you think playoff team. When they lose, they look like absolute fodder. They are a whole lot more fun to watch when they are the former but I haven’t a clue as to which version to expect when they visit the Palau Blaugrana on 26 February.