By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Olympiacos needed a bunch of heroic plays in order to achieve a comeback from down nine points in the fourth quarter against Baskonia and eventually get its 11th win in 17 games of the EuroLeague regular season. And one of the players that stepped up big time for the Reds, was forward/center Zach LeDay.
With center Nikola Milutinov getting sidelined due to fever a few hours before tip-off, LeDay knew that he will be needed to work double shift and undertake extra duties. And the 24-year-old big guy responded to the challenge, with a game-high 23 points plus a team-high nine rebounds.
Most of LeDay’s outing came down the stretch and at a moment when his team looked both empty of any solutions on offense and unable to stop the bleeding on the other end. With Olympiacos down by nine, the former “Hokie” scored 11 points during five minutes in the fourth quarter, renewed possessions and pulled off some major defensive plays to basically put his team back in the game, before Kostas Papanikolaou forced the overtime with a 3-pointer.
Following the match, Eurohoops had a small Q&A session with LeDay about his performance, the comeback win of his team and his defense against taller opponents.
EH: How do you feel after getting a comeback win like this?
– “It was good to get tested like that. Well, we don’t want to be tested like that but we just had to buckle down and get stops. That’s what the game came down to. We are both high scoring teams. It showed the versatility of our team. We have to play in a different way to get the win.”
EH: What did your team do differently in the fourth period to return to the match from?
– “We played defense in the second half. We started talking. Everybody took it more seriously. They were scoring backdoor cuts and made cuts to the basket. Small, stupid stuff. We cut all these and cut their points down.”
EH: You needed to play more and contribute heavily on both ends in the absence of Nikola Milutinov and you delivered. What do you think of your performance?
– “It just shows how you got to stay working. We have such a talented team. Everybody is a different player and everybody gets to play. I don’t get to play much in some games and other guys play more. You got to stay confident in your ability and stay ready for your moment. Lots of people can step up. Today I got the opportunity to play more and show what I can do on the court. Usually, we are three guys who share the time: Niko (Nikola Milutinov), George (Bogris) and me. Today Niko wasn’t there so I had to step up even more.
It kind of felt like back in Israel when I got to we play more. I was just ready, hungry, watching film in order to do it. I want to play every game a whole lot. But I know it’s not like that. We have a good team. I’m ready to help my team when I’m asked. My teammates really help me get through cause it’s my first Euroleague season and the first time being on such a talented team.”
EH: You faced a frontline with bigger opponents than you, like 7-footer Vincent Poirier, and won many battles particularly in the fourth period. Do you think you have improved when it comes to holding your ground defensively against 7-footers or centers close to that height?
– “I think I can hold my ground against anybody. If they don’t call fouls on me, I think I can hold my ground. That’s the only way I can see myself struggling. It’s if I’m in foul trouble. I have to really play with my hands out, move my feet, box out and grab the rebound when I can. I got to stay out of foul trouble and play my tough brand of basketball.”
EH: What went through your mind when Kostas Papanikolaou took and made the game-tying 3-pointer that forced the overtime?
– “I was under the basket. And I was thinking how I should tip it out to get the offensive rebound in case the shot goes out. But I knew that was going in though. It was this kind of game. The way we came back was magical. Everyone was playing together. Kostas was playing great. The 3-pointer that got us to overtime was crazy cause our backs were against the wall. We only needed a 3. And he got it.”