Part II of the Weekend Joints is presented to you with visits to Kaunas, Nancy’s hot dog stands, Pionir, Milano and Greece. Can’t go wrong with that route.
The matchup that never happened
The Le Mans-Unicaja match had the potential to host one of the most intriguing match-ups Euroleague 2008/09 can offer. Unicaja’s big lead allowed coach Aito Garcia Reneses to send 1989-born guard Raimundo Lopez De Vinuesa, who certainly sports one of the coolest names in the competition, on court for the closing minutes. On the other bench waited Le Mans’ 1990 born guard Pierre-Etienne Drouault, but coach Jackson decided to keep him there, preventing two of the longest names in the Euroleague to go head-to-head. Who cares about Chase vs. Cook who these two young fellas can challenge any TV commentator?
Cyril goes on the road
Some players feel better at home. The rims are more familiar, the chants of the fans give them confidence, the five-minutes-before-tipoff hot dogs taste better and the cheerleaders, too. For Nancy’s Cyril Julian the case is different. Maybe he’s not a big fan of the local rims, perhaps the fans haven’t found a cool rhyme for his name; it’s possible the Nancy hot dogs are too expensive, and the cheerleaders…
So far in two home games, Julian hasn’t scored more than six points, hasn’t grabbed more than five rebounds and his highest index rating is thus far six. On the road, in three difficult spots as at Sopot, at Montepaschi and at Barcelona, he has scored at least 17 points, seven rebounds, and an index of at least 23.
Milos and Peja’s home visit
When players go back to face their former team, in an arena they are very familiar with, they usually excel more than the usual. When Milos Vujanic went back to Pionir with Efes to meet Partizan, he was anything but excelling. Milos grew up in Red Star, which is yet another great reason for him to do his best to torture Partizan, but made his breakthrough to Europe’s center stage with Partizan. In 2002/03, he was the top scorer of the Euroleague at 25.8 points per game.
Actually if you count only his games in Pionir, his season low was 26 points. His next visit to Pionir was in 2004/05 with Fortitudo Bologna, and he scored 25 with five assists to reach an index of 26. Leave out his next and last visit, as a back up player of Pao, and you’ll find his visit this week, once again as a key leading player, as the exception. Vujanic fouled out after less than 23 minutes on court in which he went only 2-for-5 from the field, scored eight points and lost three balls.
Even for Predrag Drobnjak, in his re-debut with Efes, in a gym he spent so many hours and big games on his way to greatness and the way back from there, it wasn’t a happy visit. The veteran played less than four minutes, scored two points and turned the ball over once.
Showing how to get it done
So Milos blew his home coming game against Partizan, but there’s someone who didn’t. The story goes that in the 1999/2000 season Sarunas Jasikevicius returned to his hometown Kaunas with Olimpija. The season before that, he had returned from five years in the USA and wanted to fulfill the dream of any Kaunas kid: to wear the jersey of Zalgiris. Only the green club had different ideas, so the kid had to cross the street and play for Rytas.
Zalgiris went on to win their historical Euroleague title that season, but Saras waited for the right time. In that Zalgiris-Olimpija game, the locals held a 17-point lead before Saras led his team back in the game, all the way to an 85-84 win. With the buzzer, Saras started his own private celebration. He ran around the court for a while with his fists in the air, expressing his joy in the most extroverted possible way. Legend tells he even stopped in front of Zalgiris bench and said “My name is Sarunas. I grew up here, but you didn’t want me and now I beat you,” or something like that.
Whether there’s any truth to that legend or not doesn’t really matter. His obvious post-game celebrations were noticed by all, but it doesn’t seem like it was enough for Saras to feel like he had cashed his check yet. In any season he faced Zalgiris, there was at least one game in which he excelled (and in the other less so). Even his career highs in points (37) and index rating (37) were tallied against his hometown team in the famous game in Tel Aviv when the teams went head-to-head for a win-or-die Final Four ticket match. This season has been no exception: One week after we mentioned his streak was over after he finished a Euroleague game with no points, came a 15-point, four-assist, 22-index night in less than 22 minutes at Zalgiris.
Olimpija’s Mirza Begic was one of the nicest surprises in the first three weeks of the Euroleague; once teams put more focus on him, though, things have changed, and Begic has not reached double-digits in the last three weeks. The best example of the change was this week, when his team suffered its worst home defeat ever, 86-65 to Joventut. When the teams met in Week 1, back in the day when Joventut still had Pops, Begic scored 17 points on 8-for-9 from the field and 1-for-3 from the line. This week, they didn’t leave him a choice, played much more physical defense on him, and didn’t allow him any easy baskets. Begic finished the game versus Joventut almost with numbers mirroring the first encounter: 0-for-1 from the field and 5-for-6 from the charity stripe. Kudos to Joventut’s bigs and coach Sito Alonso for a well executed plan.
Devin Smith arrived in Istanbul as an intriguing player. The season before, he had led Avellino to a great campaign which eventually got them a ticket into the Euroleague. With Fenerbahce Ulker, Smith is doing well in the Turkish league but so far hasn’t foundnd his game in the Euroleague. He stands on only eight points per game with a sub-39% two-point ratio and awful 14.8% from long range. Actually, if you take out his game at Joventut, Smith has made just one three-pointer on 20 attempts in five games.
This week, Smith tallied his worst game yet, finishing the match against Tau missing all his six attempts from the field, didn’t make it to the line even once and committed three turnovers. In total, that’s a minus-5 index rating. Some might say the Euroleague is too big for Smith, and that’s debatable, but he’s still a better player than the numbers show so far. If it’s any comfort, his block on Begic near the end of the 2OT win over Olimpija will stay one of the highlights of the season.
When it all connects
Already last week it was pointed out here that CSKA Moscow is having trouble on the road. The near losses in Madrid and Beograd included a few made three pointer nights, and it was the same in Milano. This time, the percentages were much better, but CSKA connected only five times from long range. Matjaz Smodis finished 0-for-4 from the field but 8-for-8 from the line, and Siska … well, that was covered already. Zoran Planinic was sweeter than sweet in the first half while CSKA took a 20-point lead on the way to what seemed like another walk in the park, but … not that night.
So you know youngster Luca Vitali, a long-time Italian prospect, shone at five for six from long range, but the performance of David Hawkins in the last 11 minutes of the game was something you have to catch. He scored 15 points in that span, including seven in the final two minutes and the last five points from Milano in the game. In that run he missed just a single shot, and broke CSKA’s defense piece by piece. Even more surprisingly was the return to life, at least for a few minutes, of Massimo Bulleri, who scored six points in the fourth quarter. What stood out most in this win was Milano’s aggressive defense, especially in the fourth. For several minutes, it actually felt like CSKA was facing a … CSKA defense.
The uncompleted comeback
Last week, you were asked to check out the “Play of the Week”: Aaron Miles’ coast-to-coast drive to beat the halftime buzzer. This week his coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer also beat Real Madrid, but the story of the game was Real’s comeback. The Whites actually started the game with a 10-2 lead. but from that moment Panionios took over and in the next 20 minutes went on a 53-17 run, to reach a 55-27 lead in the 27th minute.
Then it all started. Real stormed back with a 31-5 run in nine minutes and later on even got the lead back, but their run is worth a closer look. During those nine minutes, Panionios made no fewer than eight turnovers, almost one per minute, but if you think Real was perfect on the other side, you’ve got the wrong picture. Coach Joan Plaza’s boys were actually 5-of-11 from the free throw line and lost four balls in that run but still managed to get it done. It was thanks to massive control on the offensive glass, where their hands were quicker or longer no fewer than eight times. Those extra possessions and easier access to the basket, as usually happens after an offensive rebound, allowed them to stand on 11-of-17 from the field in that run. Marko Tomas was the main man behind the comeback when he scored all of his 18 points of the game in the closing 13 minutes.