With eleven seconds to play in the EuroLeague semifinal game between Barcelona and Olimpia Milano and the score tied at 82, Kevin Punter faked to get rid of Nikola Mirotic and get himself a wide open look from beyond the arc. A great chance to put the Italian team at a potentially winning distance.
Punter misfired. Victor Claver grabbed the defensive rebound and immediately handed the ball to Cory Higgins. The American guard quickly dribbled his way over the court, pulled up from the top of the key and beat Shavon Shields’ defense to drain the jumper.
There was only 0.5 seconds remaining. Game over.
“Six seconds. I like those situations because there’s nothing to think about,” Higgins said. The two-time EuroLeague champion with CSKA Moscow has a history of burying clutch shots and this is might be the biggest he’s ever hit. “You just have to think about getting the best possible shot you can. And the only thing I was thinking about is get to a spot, raise up and shoot it. I got to my spot. Thankfully it went in for us.”
Barcelona seriously dodged a bullet with Punter’s shot going off target for two reasons: A) It was a superb look, and B) Punter was the “hottest” and most efficient guy on the court.
The Milano guard had a game-high 23 points on 3-5 triples (including the game-tying shot for the 82 – 82) before that attempt in just his first EuroLeague Final Four appearance.
“I keep saying that basketball is a funny sport,” Higgins, who finished with 11 points, added. “They had a wide-open three to almost seal the game. It doesn’t go and we get a contested shot that goes in. It’s a make or miss game. Thankfully it went in for us today.”
Before the thrilling last moments, Higgins and Barcelona saw their top player going down. Nick Calathes’ right foot landed on Kyle Hines after a drive to the basket and the playmaker hurt his ankle, being forced to exit the match.
He had 17 points, six assists and four rebounds when he went to the bench limping and in pain. His status ahead of Sunday’s Final will likely be known tomorrow.
Losing Calathes didn’t hurt the moral of Higgins and the rest of the Barca players. Instead of a blow, it became a push that lifted them drove them towards maximizing their efforts.
“Hopefully… I pray that he’s OK,” Higgins said. “With or without him we’re gonna give it our all on Sunday. But when you see a brother like that go down, it doesn’t bring your emotions down actually. It brings them up. Because you know you got to step up for him. Because he carried us in most of the game. And you just want to get the win, especially for him”
Barcelona will be facing Anadolu Efes for the title and will be playing its first championship game since 2010. Back then, the Blaugrana had won the EuroLeague by defeating Olympiacos Piraeus in the Final.
Efes had swept Barca in the regular season and Higgins doesn’t forget about how tough those matches were. Calathes’ playmaking and pivotal two-way contribution may not be there, but Higgins isn’t looking for any alibis ahead of the battle of the year.
They gave us a hard time this year, they beat us twice,” Higgins said. “It’s going to be a hard matchup for us. Hopefully Calathes will be OK. Either way there are no excuses, it’s a Final and you got to give our everything. But we have a lot to change a lot of things mentally and defensively to get ready for Sunday if we want to win.