Friday, November 25, 2011
Second thoughts: Week 6 insights
Basketball junkie Yarone Arbel has been traveling the globe to watch games for almost a decade. He works as an analyst for official websites of the top competitions and events in European basketball. He also uses his experience and broad network of connections to provide consulting and scouting services for clubs at all levels.
With another week in which most of the games were decided by up to 6 points there is a lot to talk about. We had the Green and Red styles by two giant Greek guards, an ex taking revenge against his former team and an upcoming youngster that saw the other side of clutch. And then some… As the regular season nears its deciding period.
The Green Greek amazing clutch style
It really feels worthless to mention the big performance of Dimitris Diamantidis in Malaga. He made the #1 play of the week with the winning three-point shot that gave Panathinaikos a 76-77 win and saved his team from a third loss in a row and slipping to third place. Obviously there was more. Diamantidis drained no less than 7 three-pointers Thursday night, which is more than the 6 all of Unicaja had. His previous record of made threes in one game was... 4 in several games and all of them, by the way, only since 2008. He hit 63.6% last night. Yes, including the clutch shot dribbling to the right and going up with his left hand, but there was still more. He also hit a three pointer with 15 seconds to go that cut a 75-71 gap to just a single point, and then released the play of the week coming straight from Game of the Week. If you dared to think there's nothing he can do to amaze you that he hasn't done before...
The Red Greek amazing clutch style
If Diamantidis is the face of PAO, It's no news that the face of Olympiacos is his former teammate, Vassilis Spanoulis, whose fourth-quarter performance in the 88-81 win over Gescrap Bilbao showed just what his style of clutch performance is. In this crazy close group, any win will make a difference and when Spanoulis entered the court with eight minutes to go, the visitors were up 62-66. V-Span is the top scorer this season in the Euroleague so far, but until that point he had 11 points at less than 50% shooting and no three pointers. It was time to step up. Until the final buzzer, he added no less than 18 points - 6 points from the foul line, 2 from behind the arc and 3 from closer range in a span of eight minutes. Yet that's still not how big he was. All 18 points he collected without a single miss from any range. He added two more assists for layups. Olympiacos scored 26 points from the point its top scorer stepped on the floor. 22 of them were points or assists from his hands. Two more were single foul shots. The last two were in the final seconds off a steal. It simply was one of the most amazing single-quarter performances the Euroleague has seen in recent memory.
To compete with the huge fourth-quarter performance of Spanoulis would be close to impossible, but Henry Domercant's visit to Siena to meet his former team wasn't very far behind. Unics shocked with a 73-79 win and a lot has to do with Domercant. The sharpshooter hit 6 three pointers, which is 2 more than the entire team of Montepaschi, but he kept half of them for the closing quarter. With 3 from the arc without a single miss, plus two pair from the line that decided the game in the last seconds, he reached 11 points in the quarter that won the game. Considering he had to face the defense of David Moss, who really tried his best, it was even more impressive.
The other side of clutch
Asseco Prokom couldn't escape from its worst Euroleague start to a season and in an overtime loss in Istanbul fell to 0-6. After going 0-5 to start last season, it's not fun news. The game in Turkey displayed a mixed performance from the 2011 Eurocup Rising Star award winner Donatas Motiejunas. The bottom line for the Lithuanian big guy says 22 points at over 50% from the field, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks and an index rating of 30. Yet his night was divided in two. Through 28 minutes, he had already collected 18 points at 70% from the floor and was the key part in Prokom's big run to a double-digit lead showing his great versatility and mobility. But the last quarter was a different story. Until the overtime buzzer he added only 4 more points, turned the ball over three times and allowed Darius Songaila to score points in the paint during Galatasaray's run to example how Prokom dropped a 14-point lead in the last six minutes. Motiejunas had a chance to fix it though. With 41 seconds on the overtime clock, he went to the foul line with his team down by 1, yet missed both shots. With six seconds to play he had an open corner three to win the game, but the shot was short. After recorded his best Euroleague game in three very impressive quarters, the young talent felt what it's like to face the pressure of the very top level.
Double-Double X 3
Believe it or not, KK Zagreb is on a winning streak, and don't underestimate it. Its best chance of the season to create some momentum was in Weeks 5 and 6 when hosting Zalgiris and Brose Baskets - the two teams it has the best chances to upset - and the Croatian champs made it happen. Having an opportunity is common, but grabbing it says something about you. What stood out in this win of Zagreb wasn't only the huge performance of Josh Heytvelt, who at 2.11 meters became the tallest guy to hit 7 three-pointers in a Euroleague game, but the fact that thee team had no less than three players with double-doubles in points and rebounds and more shockingly only one of them played big minutes. Heytvelt added 12 rebounds in 26:29, Mario Kasun had 15 and 11 in just 18:25 while Krunoslav Simon had 16 and 12. Two players with a double-double is unique, and often that would be in points-rebounds for one player and points-assists for another. Three double-doubles in points-rebounds is close to illegal. Brose Baskets arrived to the game in Zagreb ranked last in the Euroleague in total and defensive rebounds. Zagreb's players used that to create some special figures and it wasn't that far from a fourth as Euroleague rookie T.J. Ford in his debut had 10 assists in only 13:03 minutes on the floor. Yet to score his first points in the competition, but on pace to lead the assists/minutes ranking. At least for one week. Brose? It missed a great chance to be MUCH closer to the Top 16. Instead of a two-win gap from the fifth place with four games to play, it is tied for the fourth place now.
Maccabi opened the previous season in Vitoria with a loss and went from there to win 9 games in a row. This season started with a road loss in Milano and last night came the fifth win in a row, 85-76. A nice tradition. The revenge over Milano was cooked by two players, each serving his dish in a different part of the game. First came on the floor big Sofo who in a huge first half collected 22 points and led Maccabi to a 52-38 lead. Milano came back aggressive and just like it lost a 15-point lead in five minutes last week to Partizan, almost did the same to Maccabi in the third quarter, this time by eliminating Sofo. The All-Euroleague big man added only 6 points in the second half, which was still good enough to set a career high in scoring with 28 points, but Maccabi seemed lost on offense. untill Jordan Farmar stepped up. He scored 10 points in the first 31 minutes and then added 11 more, almost each of them exactly when needed, before Milano got too close. He also scored the basket with the buzzer to give Maccabi the tie-breaker advantage after losing by seven in the first game. Sofo and Farmar combined for 49 points out of a team total of 85. That's almost 60% scored by two players with great order. One built the gap and the other was there to maintain it.
"The most important thing for me now is that we have played well in defense," said Evgeny Pashutin head coach of Unics Kazan last week after his team's 30-point win over Olimpija. "Congratulations to my team for playing a great game in defense... the key to the game was the defense," were his comments also after the big win in Siena this week. Montepaschi scored in 63.8% on two-point shots, Unics had 11 three pointers at over 50%, yet if you watched this game you know what Pashutin was talking about. It was one of the most aggressive, physical and intense games the Euroleague has seen this season, especially in the last quarter. Grab the last 10 minutes on Euroleague TV to get the picture. Amazingly Unics, in its debut Euroleague season and not being famous at all as a good road team, to say the least, in past years is now standing on a 4-2 record with a perfect record on its three games far from Kazan. Its next road game? At Barcelona...
The lost bigs
Two bigs who are used to dominating week by week showed a different side this round. Partizan's Nikola Pekovic met a very aggressive team defense by Anadolu Efes that kept him on only 3 points going 1 for 8 from the floor and fouling out in 24:49 minutes, some of it because of frustration, for an index rating of -4. After scoring in double-digits in 17 of his last 18 Euroleaue games, Pekovic was finally stopped. The same thing happened to Unicaja's Joel Freeland, another guy who's used to double figures. This week against PAO he had only 1 point, missed all his 4 shots from the floor, collected 4 fouls in 17:31 minutes on the floor and reached a career-low index rating of -8. Considering in the first game against the Greeks champs in Athens, Freeland had only 5 points with poor shooting and after 20 minutes collected 4 fouls, is it possible coach Obradovic has the answer the rest of Europe is looking for?
YARONE ARBEL - Euroleague.net