Second thoughts: Week 7 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.
Week 7 of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague only complicated things more in Group A, while Group B is becoming thicker around the fought for Top 16 tickets. We saw some great performances this week, especially in the closing quarters, both by teams and individuals.
Fourth quarter performance – Part I
Group A continues to be the craziest in Euroleague history with only one win separating the first place team from the bottom. Benet Cantu remained unbeaten at home and this time against another powerhouse in Caja Laboral. The visitors displayed two totally different faces. After the first three quarters, Caja Laboral had only 36 points and was down by 16. After scoring only 9 points in the second quarter and 6 points in the following one, it was clear Caja Laboral would snap at some point, but it erupted by almost doubling its output in the closing quarter. Yet it was more extreme than that. Inside the last five minutes Cantu held a 64-43 lead and head coach Ivanovic called a time out. From there his team went on a 2-17 run that eventually brought it within a single point in the last minute. It was an amazing 4 three-pointers in a row without a miss, by four different players, in a span of a little over a minute that carried Caja Laboral back. Actually there was only a single two-pointer in that entire run of 25 points made of three pointers and free throw shots. After making only 31.4% of its shots in the first 35 minutes, the guests from Vitoria had 5 hits from long range without a miss, a single layup and made 8 of 10 attempts from the foul line. It was almost enough for a huge comeback from nowhere. It did keep Group A more interesting than ever.
Fourth quarter performance – Part II
Caja Laboral's last minutes performance put a shade over another huge closing quarter in Group A as Fenerbahce Ulker downed Olympiacos 86-70. Amazingly it was the first ever home win of the club over the Reds, and the locals did it in style. Entering the fourth quarter, FB Ulker had a 59-56 lead and the way to the 16-point gap at the final buzzer was slow as the difference increased step by step, but within a system. The locals committed just a single turnover the entire last quarter against 5 by Olympiacos, and if that's not enough, hit 8 shots inside the arc and missed only 2. It was also the very first game this season with FB Ulker to be decided by more than 7 points.
Newcomers looking for a spot
EA7 Emporio Armani Milano is in trouble. The two wins in seven games is one problem. Having 65 points as the best scoring performance in its last three home games is another. Being two wins behind Efes and Partizan with three games to save the season is the outcome. Considering two of its last three games are against these two teams it fights with is a good sign, the fact that both games will be on the road is yet another problem. This week was the first time ever in the entire 125-game Euroleague career of Antonis Fotsis that he didn't take a single shot from any range. 11:18 minutes on the floor finished with no threats on the basket by one of Europe's best set shooters and that's after 12 shots in Tel Aviv the week before. Last week was only the third time in 118 Euroleague career games Drew Nicholas took 2 shots or less from the floor – and missed both – and he spent over 20 minutes on the court. This week he jumped to no less than 17 attempts but made only 4. These figures tell the two big, and good, transfers from Panathinaikos to Milano still have not found their spot in their new team. Fotsis had a performance index rating above 4 only twice this season and his average is 6.1. Nicholas reached above 4 just once and averages 2.7 per game. Milano doesn't have a lot of time to click, but these two great players will need to figure their place in the team to make it happen and save the season. It does example just how complicated it is to build a good team, not just a winning team. If two players like Fotsis and Nicholas, who played in several big clubs and countries, won titles and have good character, experience and confidence, turn out as "bad moves," who can be a good move?
After shocking Panathinaikos two weeks ago at home, Brose Baskets came close to downing another giant, and only a three pointer by Milos Teodosic by the buzzer gave CSKA the victory and kept the Russian champs perfect. P.J. Tucker, in his rookie Euroleague season, almost won the game with a big performance in the closing minutes when Brose made an 8-2 run that almost won the game. He hit a layup, then did a great job on defense over Nenad Krstic despite the obvious mismatch, added a tip-in to put Brose on top 78-77 and capped it with a block on Alexey Shved's attempt. Yet that wasn't over yet. With the score tied at 78-78 inside the last minute Casey Jacobsen missed a three pointer, but Tucker was first to the offensive boards. It allowed Brian Roberts the chance to win the game, but the usual great winner of Bamberg met the great winner of CSKA…
Stop up, Step up Viktor
The play of the week went to Teodosic who scored the three-pointer with the buzzer to keep CSKA perfect. Teodosic hit only 2 of his last 12 attempts in the last three games before the shot, but was cool as ice when he hit a tough shot going left on the right wing. However the true star of CSKA's win was Viktor Khryapa. With AK still out with an injury, it was time for the silent killer to step up. He did so by not only setting a new Euroleague individual high with 5 threes, he also did that without missing a single shot from behind the arc, added 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal – the steal on Brose's last attempt to score and win the game, which allowed Teodosic to hit the big shot. If you take a look at the last play, once Khryapa stole the ball Teodosic came to ask for the ball and was the closest guy to Viktor, but he dished it to Shved. Down at the other end, once the ball was in Teodosic hands it was Khryapa asking for the ball, to hit his sixth three-pointer of the night, but Milos went for the money ball, and hit it.
Nobody keeps track of index rating better than the bwin Euroleague Fantasy Challenge fanatics, and one of the best of them, Arale Weisberg - winner of the 2011 Eurocup FabFive and the 2010 Top 16 Euroleague Fantasy Challenge - pointed out to the blog that history took place this week. Two players - Partizan's Milan Macvan and Barcelona's Erazem Lorbek - won the MVP of the week with an index rating of 25. Why is it historic? Because that's the lowest index rating ever for an MVP during the Regular Season and a Top 16. Perhaps an example of how intense and close this season is.
Group B's race
After the Week 3 game went into overtime, Zalgiris and Unicaja went through another thriller. This time a big dunk by Sonny Weems gave his team a 2-point win and kept Zalgiris in the run. It also complicated things in Group B, which still pales next to Group A, but nevertheless provides a big thrill between four teams. Right now Unicaja is third at 3-4, but right behind are three teams at 2-5. With three games to play, a lot can happen. Week 9 could be the decisive one when KK Zagreb hosts Unicaja and Zalgiris travels to Bamberg. The race is by far closer than it seems. Considering Unicaja still needs to play CSKA, it has to get two wins in the next two weeks to secure the Top 16 ticket. Otherwise Week 10 will be a night full of drama. For two of these teams, the Top 16 is a must and the added pressure is there. For the other two it's a dream come true. Don't forget to mix that when you try to predict the outcome.
Caja Laboral's big run was remarkable but something did happen to put the rookie club Cantu up by 21 points with five minutes to play. When you look at the box score, you notice veteran Gianluca Basile had 18 points with 6 three-pointers. It was only the sixth game in Basile's Euroleague career with more than 5 threes in one game. That must be the difference, right? Well, wrong. Three shots were in the last quarter when the gap was already 16. It was a great team defense by Cantu, which has yet to drop a home game and which limited Caja Laboral to only 15 points in the second and third quarters. Basile had the best game of the season, and got the fans involved in every shot, but it was a team effort that made it all happen.
A loan to rival
Right before the Euroleague season started Maccabi Electra loaned long-term signing Milan Macvan to Partizan. Some people in Tel Aviv were wondering if it's the best move to loan such a great talent to a team that is in the same, very tough, Regular Season group. On Thursday night they got the answer. Macvan not only posted his best game so far and posted season- and career-highs in points (22) and index rating (25), but also stepped up in the right moments as he has so many times in his career. The young talent hit 2 of his 3 long-range shots in the fourth quarter, the last of them made it a 7-point game inside the last two minutes. When Maccabi moved to within just 4 points, he dished a big assist and capped the run with a crucial point from the line. Maccabi is now tied with Real Madrid for the top spot, but will travel to Madrid next week. Its five-game winning streak is over and with a loss in Madrid, will most likely not finish first. Loaning Macvan to a group rival could be the cause of that.
YARONE ARBEL - Euroleague.net
Friday, December 02, 2011