After a long rest due to Interpol checking into the legality of the Joints published on BIE, the most tiring piece of text on this blog is back, and no better timing than the quarterfinals. With all due respect to the handball match that went on in Moscow, the Game 1 joints will focus on the other three games. Get ready for a long smoke.
Push it in
With Ksistof out of play, it was obvious what Panathinaikos would try to do. Unlike all the other big teams in Europe, Montepaschi don’t have a deep roster, and the short blanket exposes mostly a short front court. Without Ksistof Lavrinovic, only Shaun Stonerook and Benjamin Eze can really play at this high level of competition at the moment. Neither are true post-up players and gather their points either facing the basket from distance or from dishes/offensive rebounds.
Pao knew that if they got one of them in early foul trouble, and later to foul out, their path to the win would be easier. This is how the first quarter went: Pao tried to push the ball inside to Mike Batiste and Nikola Pekovic to use their great postup skills to get the Siena bigs in foul trouble. Of eight fouls drawn by the Greens in the first period, five were by their two big guys. But Pao wasn’t the only smart team on court.
Luckily for coach Pianigiani, Eze and Stonerook covered for their limited offensive game with a great and smart defensive side. When your big guys attack these two, it’s anything but easy to score, but that wasn’t the real beauty. Knowing their bigs couldn’t get in foul trouble, it was the backcourt’s responsibility to make the fouls. Of the eight fouls Montepaschi committed in the first quarter, seven were made by backcourt players: Domercant, Terrell McIntyre and Romain Sato had two each, while Rimas Kaukenas sacrificed one.
Pao held just a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter, which means Montepaschi was still in the game. Once the “early foul trouble” plan didn’t work out, the game was wide open. Siena’s best starting five can surely compete with any Pao lineup.
O2 on the way to O2
As long as Ksistof is out, expect the same scenario to happen in any game. Batiste and Pekovic will try to get Eze and Stonerook in foul trouble early, and walk them out with five fouls as soon as possible. Game in, game out. Only another factor could step in.
I wrote that MPS can provide a lineup to compete with any Pao lineup, but the depth of the bench has a say, too. Energy level and fatigue could turn into a factor as well. McIntyre, Sato and Kaukenas played 34-35 minutes on Tuesday night. Nobody on Pao reached 29 minutes of playing time. Forty-eight hours after the tiring Game 1, MPS will need to find the energy to give another big performance against a very intense and aggressive style of Pao in a very tough gym. Not easy at all.
Legadue memories in Euroleague
Right after college, Romain Sato joined Jesi in the Italian second division. He finished the season as with 25.6 ppg and great consistency. In just two games he scored less than 20, and kept his season high for the playoffs when he scored 43 (although his team lost). Another big aspect of Sato’s game was rebounds, where he showed a 194-cm player can contribute 7.5 boards per game and notch several double-doubles.
Coming into the game on Tuesday night, Sato had played 39 games in the Euroleague with MPS, but only twice had he crossed the 20-point barrier, and just four times grabbed eight or more rebounds. Some would say it means he can’t produce as well as he did in lower levels such as League, but on Tuesday, when needed, he proved it’s nothing but great character.
Sato can dominate an offensive game almost by himself (lots of his points came in one-on-one situations), but plays inside the Montepaschi system and steps up when needed, not when he feels like it. His 29 points and index of 40 were his Euroleague career highs, but he also pulled down nine boards while Ksistof was out.
The duo show
True fans of Fortitudo Bologna and Maccabi Tel Aviv will never forget the first game of the eighth finals series in 1998. Fortitudo presented an all-star lineup with David Rivers, Carlton Myers, Dominique Wilkins and Gregor Fucka on the front page and a few others to back them up. Maccabi, just like MPS this week, wasn’t as deep but their best lineup was able to compete. Only six Maccabi players were on court that night. Actually four of them played the entire 45 minutes of the game that went to overtime.
Maccabi presented in their backcourt the local duo of Oded Katash and Doron Sheffer, and they produced a superstar game: The former scored 30 points and the later 31, in a show that frustrated the local fans to the bone, to bring Maccabi just three points behind after the extra five minutes. Maccabi also had 21 + 10 from Rashard Griffith that night, but nobody remembers from Maccabi side anything but the backcourt action by the duo.
The McIntyre and Sato show brought those memories back as MPS’ duo combined for 56 points in great accuracy in addition to 15 rebounds and eight assists in what was probably the most impressive performance by duo in the history of the modern Euroleague. Surely in such high level and far in the season. Next to Sato’s 40 index rating, McIntyre added 36 to lead the rankings for Game 1, far above the third place of this round (26 by Theo Papaloukas). More amazingly, the total index rating of Montepaschi was 82 and these two combined for 76. The other six points came from what is defined in the boxscore as “team stats”, which means all other Montepaschi players combined for a total index rating of 0.
Five three plays
What finally decided Game 1 in favor of Pao were no less than five consecutive three-point plays, each perfectly executed and after a team play. Stonerook made the score 73-71 with less than five minutes to play, but just like the rivals from across the city, Pao didn’t feel the pressure and answered right away.
Antonis Fotsis dished a great pass to Pekovic, who hit a close two and added one from the line. McIntyre answered from distance to keep the difference on two, so Pao made sure their message would be delivered. Fotsis’ three-pointer on a Drew Nicholas assist waited just at the other side. Following this, Nicholas nailed one from distance on a Vassilis Spanoulis assist. Not done yet. Now it was a Saras assist to Pekovic, who made another old-school three-point play and for an 11-point lead while fouling out Stonerook as well. McIntyre cut it to eight, but quickly saw Fotsis nail another bomb, this time off a Spanoulis assist and from there the game was set.
Memories from Tel Aviv
Real Madrid have bad memories of Nikola Vujcic. Last season, while playing for Maccabi, he was registered in the great comeback of the eventual finalists in the game in Madrid. That game gave Maccabi the top seed in the Top 16 group and sent Real home earlier than they had wished.
This year, the big Croatian hit them again. When Vujcic hit the bench in the 17th minute, Olympiacos was up 46-28 and he had 15 points on 6-of-7 from the field, four rebounds, three assists and an index rating of 20. Coach Giannakis took him out twice before as well, just to get some air, but this time it was too late. From this exit, Real hit back with a stunning 1-27 run. Nikola was no longer a big factor, but Olympiacos had another veteran to step up.
Not many teams can say they scored 22 unanswered points on the road against Olympiacos with a streak that later became extended to a 27-1 run and moved the visitors from 18 points down to an eight-point lead.
Once Real started their run, they scored on eight consecutive possessions, in which they missed just one shot, the last, which was quickly fixed with an offensive board and a bucket. A total of only three missed shots in an eight-minute span. When a team goes scoreless, as Olympiacos did for such a long period, it’s interesting to check the ratio between missed shots and turnovers. In this case, it was clear. They turned the ball over only four times, all in the first three minutes after the break, and missed no fewer than 12 shots from the field in a row and three from the free throw line.
Memories from Moscow
If people in Tel Aviv had regrets, or at least second thoughts, when Nikola stormed Real in the first half, then in the second Theo probably raised the same feelings in Moscow. If the first veteran had led Olympiacos to a huge start, the second was responsible for a super finish. The final boxscore shows that Theo dished 13 assists, just one short of the all-time Euroleague record set by Tyrus Edney, but vast majority of them came in the second half.
Papaloukas was on court when Real kicked off their run, but not when the teams came back from the break. After Real went on a 9-0 run to open the second half, and complete that once-in-a-quarterfinals 22-0 run, he was rushed back to the court.
Real climbed a few more steps up before the Theo machine started to roll. Papaloukas’ first action was damage control, to stop Real’s break and bring Olympiacos close again, but that was just foreplay before the real deal. In the closing quarter, he dished no fewer than seven assists in six minutes. Almost any Olympiacos possession finished with a big pass by Theo to four different teammates. When he was done, the gap was nine and the win deep in the pocket.
So Nikola made the first big run and Theo brought them back and carried to the win, but the one to make the real difference in the closing five minutes and actually win the game was a less shining star. Panagiotis Vasilopoulos stepped up to show once again that he can do great things at the highest level.
Olympiacos held a 70-68 lead when they had to inbound a ball under Real’s basket with two seconds on the shot clock. Vasilopoulos was the only open man, but had a defender on his nose. If that shot went up, Real could have tied the score and put Olympiacos under big pressure, but the Greek forward had different plans. He scored a super shot with time and defense pressure and gave his team some breathing space.
Two minutes later, Vasilopoulos added a highlight-reel block on a fast break attempt, grabbed the rebound and finished the play by beating the shot clock once again for a catch-and-shoot long ball, off a Papaloukas pass of course, to make it 80-71. Done deal. Bring on game 2.
Memories from Dusko
If Barcelona doesn’t make it to the Final Four after such a great regular season and Top 16, the great share of the blame would probably be placed on an ACB game. Surely everyone heard about the exciting quadruple-overtime game in the Spanish league the team from Barcelona endured against Manresa (and eventually lost).
It’s easy to criticize Barcelona for not seeing the bigger picture and not sacrificing that game in order to stay fresh for the difficult series against Tau that tipped off only 60 hours later, but once in a game that you feel you can win with just a bit more effort, it’s difficult to give up on the spot. Maybe a more experienced coach than Pasqual would have done differently, but surely there’s one who wouldn’t: his opponent on Tuesday night.
A lot of stories have been told about the exhausting training of Dusko Ivanovic. Rumors said this was one of the reasons Juan Carlos Navarro “escaped” to the NBA for one season. After you experience the Dusko practices, playing four overtimes and a tough deciding game in the Euroleague 60 hours later shouldn’t be a problem. The irony is that if Barcelona was still under Dusko, or if Tau was the one to experience four overtimes on Sunday, it wouldn’t have been a big factor.
Routine for Tau
Some considered Tau’s home loss to Olympiacos that cost them the home court advantage in the quarterfinals a big fiasco, but it seems like Tau feels more comfortable on the road. The loss was surely not the first time Vitoria lost a very important game in front of their fans (the list is long…) but winning Euroleague series without home-court advantage is a common thing in Basque land.
No need to remind of the 2006 series against Pao, when Pablo Prigioni shocked OAKA in Game 3. A year before Tau arrived in Treviso and won game 1 by 39 points, 59-98, later eliminating Benetton’s Ettore Messina. On top of that, add the debut Euroleague season under ULEB when in no fewer than three consecutive series, Tau, without home-court advantage, eliminated Greek teams to reach the finals. Five times, Tau has won a Euroleague series without home-court advantage. The win on Tuesday brings them closer to no. 6.
Same ol’ Pablo
Last season, Pablo Prigioni amassed a total of just 17 points on 5-of-24 in the three game series against Partizan and the semifinals against CSKA: Enough for people to start doubting that he’s still “good ol’ Pablo,” a great player who was also a big-time performer and winner, at the age of 31.
In Game 1 in Barcelona, one year older, Prigioni silenced the critics. He contributed his season high in points (14) in that key game, and added another season high with four three-pointers. Actually, in the last three games, Pablo is on fire from distance, making 10 of 14 attempts. He added five rebounds, eight assists and no turnovers in a game that annulled the home-court advantage Barcelona had worked so hard for the entire season.
So that shot in Game 3 in OAKA in 2006 is one of Prigioni’s more famous shots, but if you missed his deed in Barcelona, follow the Euroleague’s top 5 plays of Game 1. Right in the middle is Prigioni’s perfectly timed shot.
Barcelona just cut a double-digit deficit to just five with a little over two minutes to play, and the shot clock was about to expire on Tau. The Argentinean point guard was over sevn meters away from the basket. One dribble and an off-dribble shot went through the net to decide the game.