By Panos Katsiroubas/ email@example.com
It was proven to be a decisive 12th Top16 week. For sure there are many games left that can change the situation and we have two great weeks of basketball ahead of us, but for now let’s focus on what was important in this week’s games
The comeback of the Champions!
The game in Malaga was the biggest game this week because it was crucial for both teams with the losers facing elimination and the winners getting a strong boost for advancing to the playoffs. The return of Spanoulis has changed everything for the Reds leading them to an easy away win, with the team feeling good and giving everything on both sides of the court. Because of Spanoulis’ presence, the game of the back to back champions became streamlined again giving the ability to all key players of Olympiakos to showcase their strengths and advantages.
Everything started from defense again for the defending champions. Against a team which is very aggressive at home with a lot of energy and great transition offense, Olympiakos managed to stop all the key players and disrupt most of the Spanish offensive plays. The Reds protected the paint with a very effective defense against the opponents’ pick and rolls, courtesy of Dunston, Petway and Shermadini, that lead either to passes for the forwards and centers or penetrations of the backcourt attackers of Malaga who are very good in one on one situations, like Dragic, Toolson and Granger and Calloway. The defense was excellent in most cases and those four players combined for only 22 points.
The Reds had also a good offensive game as well with Spanoulis scoring 20 points and also changing dramatically the rotation and the attitude of Olympiakos’ backcourt. Let’s see through numbers what differences are made in the last 2 games with the comeback of the captain and the big wins of Olympiakos even though injured Printezis and Perperoglou were absent.
With Spanoulis coming back, Lojeski returned to the small forward position which is the ONLY position he can show his full strength. During the three games of Spanoulis absence he was used as a guard and he had an average of 7 points with only 9/28 field goals, an almost 30% shooting percentage. In contrast during the last two games he increased his scoring to 17 points per game with 15/22 field goals shooting almost 70%, while at the same time he is having his usual numbers in rebounds and assists. In addition Mantzaris in the three games without Spanoulis had in 31 minutes 6 points, 4a ssists and 2 turnovers per average. In the last two games, he has 9 assists and 6 rebound per average and only one turnover. He improved drastically despite being on the court for only for 25 minutes per game. It is clear that with Spanoulis in the court the definition of the roles is much easier and Olympiakos will be very tough team to crack for every opponents, even without home court advantage in the play offs.
They win even in games that deserve to lose!
What happened in Tel Aviv was something like a basketball paradox. Maccabi showed every team in Europe how they can face Real Madrid even though in the end they lost a game which they totally deserved to win. Real Madrid couldn’t produce their signature basketball with their usual transition attacking play, due to the great transition defense of Maccabi. They forced Madrid to play in a game of 65 possessions while in most games the Spanish side has 75-80 possessions. They also manage to keep Real Madrid in this season’s lowest number for field goals made with only 23 (even in their blowout defeat at Moscow they scored 25 field goals, and 26 in their other defeat in Munich). In addition the team from Israel had 3 assists more than Madrid (17-14) and only 5 turnovers while Madrid had 10.
How Real Madrid managed to escape with the victory?
They had a 92% percentage from the free throw line in a game which in the end was determined from a missed free throw by the MVP of the night, Alex Tyus, who finished the game with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Moreover they held Maccabi to only 26% from behind the arc (6/26) when in Top16 they shoot with almost 38%. And finally because they have a great player in their roster called Sergio Rodriguez who finished the night with 21 points and 5 assists in only 21 minutes, a player who scored or passed in all the crucial possessions of Real Madrid in the dramatic finale.
Hand by hand…
The battle of Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Kuban is very entertaining in the Group F. Both teams continued with wins and now they are both have a 6-6 record, each of them has one win with the same points difference in their head to head games. On top of that they have more or less the same schedule visiting next week the two leaders of their group, while last week the Russians are hosting Bayern which also have possibilities for the fourth place in the final standings. At the same time the Turkish side will host Partizan.
Galatasaray played in Kaunas without injured Mensah Bonsu who was another victim of the injuries’ curse that plagues the Turkish team this season, but manage to win easily. The key factors of the win were three. First of all the explosion of Arroyo in the third quarter. In the 1st half he scored only two points but in the second he exploded starting scoring big threes from everywhere and he also dished seven assist reaching the total number of 18 assists in the last two games.
Secondly it was defense that mattered the most. In a gym where many teams suffered in the defensive end, inside an arena where Zalgiris most of the times scores more than 80 points even in defeats, Galatasaray managed to keep this number to 72 points. The Turks have an average of allowed points below 70 in the last three crucial games.
Finally Galatasaray outrebounded the Lithuanians by 10 even without Mensah Bonsu and they controlled the tempo. In this part of the game Aldemir and Hairston controlled the glass with both of them combining for 22 of their 40 team rebounds. Add also 26 points for them and the key presence of Markoishvili who had another good game after his return with 13 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.
In the game in Russia, Lokomotiv controlled and dominated the court from the beginning to the end against Partizan. There are no much things to analyze in this game except for the great offensive performance of the hosts. The Russians had the unbelievable 74% in the two points shots and a season record for assists with 29 that showed the quality and the altruism which appeared in the court in this game. Partizan’s defense was bad, in one of the worst game of the Serbians in this year’s Euroleague. Individually, it was the night of Derrick Brown who did everything in the court scoring 18 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals with a 34 ranking, that got his the weekly MVP honors.
Home court advantage set! Losses with and without consequences
In Group E the two first places of the standings which give home court advantage in the play offs are already set. In Barcelona we had another dominated night for the host team against Panathinaikos. The Catalans won another game pretty easily even though in the first 15 minutes they faced some difficulties from the Greens. However 15 minutes of good basketball were enough for Barca to gain a 20 point lead and keep it without any problems till the end of the game. It was another night for Barcelona with all players of the team playing at least 10 minutes and contributing. Lorbek and Navarro played the most (22 minutes ONLY). Moreover all the players of Barca saw their name in the scoreboard with Lorbek and Abrines being the top scorers in this game.
A statistic that shows the quality and the depth of this team is that in 12 games in Top16 they have seven different leading scorers with Navarro, Marcelinho, Nachbar, Oleson, Tomic, Lorbek and Abrines included in this list. Barcelona is now 12-0 and locked the 1st place in the toughest group in Euroleague’s Top16 history. Of course, Barca is one of the top favorites to go all the way and win the trophy in Milan. Panathinaikos tried to be close in that game, but after the first scoring run of Barca the Greens could not follow and in the end the defeat came without reactions. It was an “in the schedule” loss for Panathinaikos, which now has to be prepared for their “final”, the game against Malaga next week in Athens.
Olympia Milano after the big road win against Fenerbahce at Istanbul secured the second place. It was a game full of tension during which Milano was in total control for the first 30 minutes even though they played without injured Keith Langford. Milano had an excellent game, passing the ball and executing in very high level. The Italians could score either from the perimeter or inside the paint, have personalities who can take over the game like Hackett, Moss, Gentile and beasts inside the paint like Samuels and Gani Lawal. Both of them played excellent defense that kept Fenerbahce in a very low scoring night especially in the first 25 minutes.
On the other side Fenerbahce demonstrated on the court all the problems that has as a team. Despite the huge individual talent this team plays really bad in the Top16 – contrary to what was expected – but this is not a coincidence. They don’t have creation from the point guard position and for one more game McCalebb had only 2 assists in 32 minutes.
They don’t seem to have any chemistry with everybody taking the ball just shooting, without any movement, without gaining advantages from the mismatches. Players like Kleiza are being very negative on both ends of the floor and they stayed in the game only because Bogdanovic executed well shots that were very difficult to make.
Moreover, they had a coach on the bench who bizarrely enough proved to be a distraction for his team performance. Zoc this time couldn’t leave his mark on his team, like he did from his first season in every other occasion, he started to shout towards the referees, he seemed almost ready for a fist fight and brought high tension on the court. From this tension Fenerbahce, adding the boost of the home crowd, tried to force a comeback by playing great defense in the fourth quarter, founding some transition looks that lead to easy baskets and pushed the pressure back to Olympia. Still, despite a lead that was cut to five points from 20 in the third quarter, Milano showed skills and personality in the end, remained calm and got away with another big away win.
Fenerbahce is one step away from disaster that will lead one of the most individually talented and expensive teams of this season out of the playoffs. This disaster can be even considered normal if somebody understands what kind of basketball is played these days where CHEMISTRY, TEAM WORK and GOOD DEFENSE matter the most. Unfortunately for them, in these three parts of the game Fenerbahce is not one of the top 8 teams of the competition and this is the hard reality.