Second thoughts: Week 9 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 9 in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague was nothing anyone could have expected. After such a long season of close battles, all the games but one finished with a double-digit margin. Heck, all but two were decided by 15 points and more. The only close win was also the first loss for FC Barcelona Regal in a very unique finish. While all of that is just the tease for next week's battles for the last Top 16 spots.
One half performance and then another...
At the half time break in Moscow, the shooting percentages were crystal clear. One team was shooting 9 for 17 inside the arc and 8 of 15 beyond it, while its opponent was under 50% in two-point range and only 3 for 11 from downtown. The first team was CSKA. The second Panathinaikos. The leader? The visitors. Figures like that are the sign for those who consider themselves to have some understanding in basketball that this is PAO's game. If CSKA shoots so well while Panathinaikos shoots so bad, yet still has the lead, when the numbers even out in the second half the guests will have the upper hand. Makes sense, right? Well, wrong. CSKA finished with 50% two-point and 47.8% from long distance. PAO's percentages dropped even more. Hence, 16 points difference at the buzzer.
Who leaves Blu alone?
It was a battle for the second spot in Group B between Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv and Anadolu Efes. Maccabi arrived with negative momentum. Efes was surfing on a wave. The final score showed Maccabi won by 39 points. The more amazing part was that at the eight-minute mark, Efes actually had a 10-point lead. Two teams holding a double-digit lead in the same game doesn't happen every day. One of them winning by 39 is even more unique. What exampled best the collapse of Efes in the second half, which Maccabi won 60-26, took place late in the third quarter. In a span of less than two minutes David Blu and his lethal shooting hand were left wide open no less than four times in a row totally and twice from behind the arc. Two of them even took place on back to back shots when he missed the first open shot and had another one a few seconds later. In total he hit three of the four shots. It pushed the gap from 12 to 20 and marked the final collapse of the guests.
Pietro Aradori was a big star for the Italian youth national teams. In 2009-10 he made his breakthrough at the senior level wearing the uniforms of Lauretana Biella having a great season in both the Eurocup and the Italian league. The move to Montepaschi Siena was natural, but his role remained limited. Until last night he had only two games in double-digits. In some games he didn't play at all. Last night he exploded. The huge win over FC Barcelona Regal, the first loss of the season for FCB Regal, saw Aradori score a career-high 20 points going 6 for 11 from the field, 7 for 8 from the foul line plus 4 rebounds, 1 assists, 5 drawn fouls and 0 turnovers. Until last night he collected this season just 31 points, 9 field goals and an index of 36. All that against the most dominating defense in the Euroleague. If that wasn't impressive enough, Aradori was there especially in crunch time. With his team down by 10 points inside the last six minutes, he started his run of 11 points until the buzzer, exactly half the points Montepaschi scored in the remaining time, and capped a huge win.
Mickeal? A choker?!
Montepaschi, still without Bo, Rimas and Ksistof, became the first team to beat Barca. It's the second win in a row for Montepaschi without its crucial trio. Or maybe not that crucial? Anyhow, Barca dropped its first game this season and it happened in so called style. Inside the last four minutes it was still a 64-73 lead for coach Pascual's side. Amazingly it wasn't enough. Amazingly because Barca not only allowed 13 points in such a short span of time, but also scored just a single point until the buzzer. More amazingly? Pete Mickeal is usually one of the greatest winners in the Euroleague. He's the one you want on your side when you're down by 9 points in the last four minutes and need a comeback. He's the one you want to take the big shots in the last minutes. In Siena, Barca missed 5 shots and 1 free throw during that drought. Mickeal was in charge for that missed free throw and no less than 3 of these missed shots.
Rim attack Bilbao
A huge win for Gescrap Bilbao in Istanbul and considering the past happenings in Group A, it was nothing shocking. For a change it wasn't a close game and the visitors made sure of that from the start. If last week it was Gianluca Basile's crazy three pointer with the buzzer that cost Bilbao the game, this week it was Bilbao's turn to enjoy crazy shots as you could catch on the Top 10 plays of the week with 2 wild three pointers. Nevertheless it was the first quarter that opened the gap FB Ulker could never catch. Bilbao finished the first quarter with a 14-25 lead and used no less than seven layups and dunks by six different players to get there. In the last six minutes of the first quarter, the visitors didn't miss inside the arc. That's too much to handle for most teams. That's how Bilbao got its edge and stayed in the race.
Three face Cantu
There are three faces for Cantu this season and whichever face you see it's clear what you're going to get. The 86-61 loss to Olympiacos this week, after five(!) games in a row that were decided by up to 3 points(!), was the final stamp on it. At home, in front its fans, Cantu has not allowed any team to score more than 69 points and won all four games. On the road it has been a different story. The one team that stayed under the 70 points - Bilbao - lost. SLUC Nancy reached the mid-70s and won by a single point. FB Ulker scored 73 and went to overtime, while Caja Laboral and Olympiacos were the only teams to cross the 80-point line and won by double-digits.
The writing was on the wall already last week, but now it became official. Week 10 will hold a couple of nerve-racking and breathtaking matchups. Milano will travel to Belgrade to look into the eyes of Partizan in a winner-takes-all Top 16 battle. In Cantu the locals will host FB Ulker and with a loss the Turks could be eliminated. In Vitoria we're going to have a Basque derby that could decide which of the two regional teams will go home before the Top 16 and which side will shout "Agur!" (the Basque word for "Goodbye") to its archrival. This is the second season in a row Caja Laboral's spot in the Top 16 is in danger. Last season it was decided only in Week 9. This season its fans will have to wait for the final buzzer of the regular season. In Group B, Zalgiris will try to complete the great finish and grab the last ticket to the Top 16 with its third win in the last four games in front of its die-hard crazy fans. Get your Euroleague TV account ready for two long nights of great action...
Yarone Arbel - Euroleague.net
Friday, December 16, 2011