By Panos Katsiroumpas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
One week before the end of Top 16 and the last two days proved the most important so far. Only on ticket is left for grabs and the play offs have almost been decided. Let’s catch up with all the action of the 13th thrilling Top16 week.
Party in Lombardy!!
It was one of the two games that had no real motivation for both opponents in terms of qualifying and positioning in the group. One week ago both clinched the 1st and the 2nd position in the group and gained home court advantage for the playoffs.
Still it was test which could measure the power and class of Olympia Milano against the top team of the 2nd Euroleague phase. Milan proved once more that the last two months is one of the best basketball teams in Europe. After a close first quarter the Italians exploded, moving the ball amazingly with perfect execution, having a great transition game in offense and DEFENSE.
EA7 Milano reacted great in all the picks and rolls of Barcelona, they stole many balls and they made it really hard for Barca to move the ball in the offensive end. The partial score after the first quarter was 70-43 for the Italian side, Barcelona was held down for the first time in the Top16 and the results was its first defeat in this phase after 24 straight wins.
For Barcelona this defeat does not mean much of course, after a tremendous Top16 round, during which they won almost everywhere and played great basketball. For one more game coach Pasqual had a 12 player rotation without Navarro in the squad, but this game was a total win of Milan’s passion and their need to show in front of their fans that they are real contenders for the Euroleague crown. The additions of Hackett and Lawal may be proven to be the most successful transfers in the history of Euroleague during the mid-season, compared only with the transfer of Acie Law and Joey Dorsey for Olympiakos two years ago.
The Greeks prevailed and advance to play offs!!
What was needed for the Greek teams was just one win in order to go through to the play offs. Both teams manage to win their games, even though after Fenerbahce‘s defeat by Baskonia and the win of Panathinaikos over Unicaja, Olympiakos would qualify even with a defeat in Istanbul.
The Greens were ready for a “final” against Malaga in the battle for the two remaining spots in Group E and Panathinaikos didn’t had a really impressive night. They lost the battle of rebounds to Malaga which got 16 offensive boards, they had foul trouble for key players like Lasme who played only for 14 minutes, but still they manage to prevail through another great defensive game that stopped Malaga to only 60 points.
Panathinaikos had his captain, Diamantidis, in a great day. He managed to score 13 points without exaggerating in field goal attempts, having taken just six shots, doing all the other things that he is capable of, such as rebounding, passing and playing great individual and team defense. Panathinaikos’ perimeter defense was excellent, not leaving any space for the great shooters of Malaga who took under bad conditions most of the 20 three points attemps during the game and also stopped all the penetrations of Unicaja‘s guards inside the Greek paint. This was again the key of the win for Panathinaikos that has by far the best defense in the Top16.
Malaga lost any possibility to go through to the playoffs having foir straight defeats in the most crucial part of the competition, all in do or die games. This shows that the team is good, but not so mentally tough in order to win those important games. What’s really important is the offensive breakdown of the team from Andalucía. In the first nine Top16 contests Malaga had an average of almost 80 points scoring in seven of the first bine games over 70 points. In the last four games Malaga didn’t manage to score more than 70 points. The biggest problem in these games was the absence of Caner- Medley who was the leading scorer of the league and a player who can keep a defense focused on him and open up a lot of space for all the others to execute.
Olympiakos got the easy win against Efes in Istanbul. It’s the third win in a row for the European champions after the comeback of their captain Spanoulis. The Reds took the lead from the beginning, they passed the ball and executed well having for the third straight game over 50% in field goals and 20 assists. After a long time Olympiakos has a balanced rotation with 11 of the 12 players stepping on the court and Dunston, the first player in minutes played, had less than 29. Now both Greek teams focus on their “classic” next week at Piraeus in a battle for third place at the group and a psychological boost that always is offered to the winner of this particular game.
Tragedy for Zoc and Fenerbahce…
Fenerbahce played with their back against the wall at Vitoria for their remaining hopes of advancing in the play offs, but for another game the Turkish side played very badly and the outcome was a blowout defeat by Baskonia, practically the end of their Euroleague season. Under this format, Top16 is a very fair league of 14 games and in the end the best teams will go through. Fenerbahce just wasn’t among them.
Fenerbahce appeared as a team without identity, without players who can create and control the tempo of the game, without physical strength at both ends of the floor and above all with players that are not good enough in individual and team defense. They had also stars like Kleiza and Bogdanovic who didn’t found their roles in the team and as a result they were negative in most of the games.
Moreover, despite having on the bench the best coach in Euroleague history, this year the result was a mess of a team. He was trying to make a puzzle with the pieces of success, but the pieces he chose for this team didn’t match. Obradovic had also made some big mistakes that lead to this tragedy for Fener. He chose most of the players, he didn’t help his team with good transfers and when the situation got really bad he didn’t tried to find any solutions to improve the game of his team and he only managed to have personal outbursts against some of his players and the referees.
Big game in Munich!!
The game of the week took part in Munich with the hosts fighting against Maccabi for one birth in the play offs. It was a great spectacle for the fans even though not the best game for the coaches of both teams. The first half was totally entertaining with both teams playing run and gun basketball while executing with great percentages. Both teams had over 50% from the perimeter and after the first 20 minutes the Germans had a lead of 58-54.
The second half was a totally different story with defenses playing the leading role in the game. It was a close game that ultimately was decided by two factors.
- The zone defense and the small ball of Maccabi in the end of the 3rd period and in the beginning of the 4th. Maccabi played with Devin Smith in the center position for some minutes, a choice that gave to the Israelis movement in the zone defense, created miss-matches in the offensive end and spaces for the very talented scorers of Maccabi.
- The great shooting percentages and Guy Pnini! The Israeli guard had zero points in the beginning of the fourth quarter, but scored three very crucial threes that lead his team to a 10 points lead which helped Maccabi to gain the win. Bayern tried to stage a huge comeback in the end, but Tyrese Rice remained calm in his last two free throws and killed his former team.
Battle for 1st place and qualification. Huge respect for Galatasaray!!
On Friday night two games took place that had as hosts the two leading teams in Group F (Real- CSKA) and as guests the two teams that are battling for the four place (Galatasaray– Lokomotiv Kuban). In both situations the teams have the same record, they share the wins in the two games between them and also have the same head to head point differential. Still after Friday night the situation became much more clear.
Real Madrid had another spectacular game with Sergio Rodriguez doing everything on the court for one more time with 13 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists in only 20 minutes giving his team great offensive rhythm. That lead them to a 26 points advantage in the second quarter and at the same time gave an early end to this game. Real Madrid used 11 of its 12 players in this game and even the young and talented Daniel Diez playing almost for 20 minutes having a good performance. Lokomotiv played their worst game in the Top16 at Madrid and had the lowest offensive production with only 55 points in a very crucial contest for them. Now they need a miracle in order to advance.
In Moscow’s game, CSKA won in overtime in a very close affair against Galatasaray. Still in the end of the game the players of Galatasaray should have been happier that the winners, because this will probably be the sweetest defeat for the Turkish side. Galatasaray played very tough, good defense and chose the best possible options in offense. Zoran Erceg was incredible scoring 35 points on 7/9 three points shots and in the end Galatasaray decided to lose by one point than trying to force a second overtime with the possibility of losing with a bigger differential.
Now they have the qualification in their hands hosting Partizan next week. Real Madrid will take the first place with a win in Kaunas last week and Galatasaray will go through with a win. The only possibility for Lokomotiv Kuban to advance is to beat disqualified Bayern with +25 differential plus the point differential of a possible Galatasaray’s win against Partizan.
Galatasaray has to take all the credit for what they managed to achieve in Top16 because they had huge absences due to injuries. They had to change their roster deeply and also their way of playing. Although they had a leader in the face of Arroyo, they are tough, they have roles and they play good defense all these aspects needed for a team to produce good results and go through in the competition.
So we have the utter respect for Galatasaray and for what they achieved!