View from the Bench: Regular season, Game 1

Oct 12, 2012 by Dimitris Itoudis Print
Dimitris ItoudisFor more than a decade, Dimitris Itoudis has been one of the most visible assistant coaches in basketball and one of the biggest winners in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague as the right-hand man of Zeljko Obradovic as they and Panathinaikos lifted four continental titles between 2000 and 2011. This season, Coach Itoudis will educate Euroleague fans with his expertise by analyzing games every week on Euroleague.net!

CSKA Moscow 75-73 Lietuvos Rytas

We saw in the very first game of the new Turkish Airlines Euroleague season some of the major lessons of this competitions: no court is safe, every second counts, favorites have to prove it and you've got to fight for the right to claim a Euroleague victory. CSKA is always a favorite in Moscow, but Lietuvos Rytas pushed last year's runners-up to the very limit. Here are some of the plays that stood out for me:

Fight until the end of every quarter

Until the clock has run down to zero, the quarter is not over! You're team can still do damage, as CSKA proved twice in the first half. To finish the first quarter, Vladimir Micov steals an offensive rebound and puts it back in right before the buzzer because he kept playing while Lietuvos Rytas failed to box out on the rebound. Then, right before halftime, Lietuvos Rytas makes another end-of-quarter defensive mistake, an unnecessary double-team, which Sonny Weems recognizes and Anton Ponkrashov, left open, punishes with a three-pointer on the buzzer. CSKA scored 5 very important points in those closing seconds because of a lack of concentration from Lietuvos Rytas. The point is to always play until the end. Every second counts, especially considering that CSKA won this game by just 2 points!

CSKA-L. Rytas: Pickin' and rollin'

Lietuvos Rytas had to deal all night with good, experienced pick-and-roll creators like Milos Teodosic, Drew Nicholas, Aaron Jackson and Vladimir Micov. In this series of clips, we first see Nicholas attacking the defense after a pick-and-roll, then receiving the ball back for a good shot. In the second play, he takes a handoff, uses a follow-up screen and passes back to Viktor Khryapa, who gets free for a layup. Next, Nicholas creates another open look for Khryapa after making a strong drive and reading the weak-side defensive help. Although just one of the three shots scored, all were good looks, which is what coaches ask from players: open shots that come from reading defenses well. In the fourth play, this time it's Micov using the pick-and-roll against a zone defense, recognizing a defensive player helping unnecessarily and quickly passing to an excellent spot-up shooter, Zoran Erceg. The help by Erceg's defender was unnecessary because his teammates defending the pick-and-roll switched and were not at a disadvantage in that moment. As a result, Erceg was left open for the three-pointer.

In the last two plays, we first see Teodosic come of the pick-and-roll reading the entire defense to find his open man in the opposite corner. Khryapa uses his advantage on a late-arriving defender to drive to the basket and score. Then Teodosic does it again, asking for a screen that he uses to draw the defense and find Khryapa in the other corner. Khryapa's drive again emphasizes how good it is to have an excellent shooter who can also drive the ball after faking and finish strong, preferable with a dunk.

Reading the stagger

On these two plays, we see Teodosic read perfectly his defender's decision on a pair of stagger screens: two picks in a row set by the CSKA big men. On the first, his defender tries to follow Teodosic, who recognizes this, curls around a sleeping big defender and drives to the basket for a layup. On the second version, the defender this time goes under the stagger screens and gets stuck. Teodosic counters by stopping behind them and hitting a three-pointer. It is vital to have players who can read the reactions of their defenders and make the right, split-second decisions to give your team an advantage.

Adapting to defenses

CSKA threw several different pick-and-roll defenses at Lietuvos Rytas over the course of the game. In the first play of this sequence, Renaldas Seibutis scores when CSKA's defenders leave him open, neither challenging from the top or below the screen. Considering that it was late in the possession, maybe CSKA's defenders could have switched and avoided the easy shot. In the same scenario, Nemanja Nedovic pulls up for a similarly open jump shot. By the time Janis Blums tries the next shot, his defender is fighting over the screen and the CSKA big man jumps out sooner, but he still finds space to shoot and the Lietuvos Rytas center who was left open, Predrag Samardziski, is free to tip in the miss. On the final play, exactly the same situation, CSKA gets all over the shooter, Steponas Babrauskas, from in front and behind, but he makes a difficult shot anyway. The series of plays shows that CSKA changed its way of defending the pick-and-roll during the game, something that Lietuvos Rytas players had to adjust to on the fly.

Collapsing on Krstic

Lietuvos Rytas was well prepared to defend one of the Euroleague's top inside threats, Nenad Krstic. We see from the following plays that L. Rytas decided not to give Krstic any easy hook shots. In the first play, his defender first tries to deny the direct pass to Krstic, and then Ronny Seibutis drops in quickly to steal the ball. Next, in transition, L. Rytas brings a big man from the top to crowd Krstic and get the ball out of his hands. He passes for a decent shot that misses, however. Then we see another defensive trap on Krstic triggered by his first dribble, but it comes too late to stop him. Next, expecting the trap, Krstic passes out and repositions himself to receive again and draw a foul. With no double team, he took advantage. Finally, we again see Lietuvos Rytas double-team from the corner, this time crowding Krstic quickly enough that he commits a turnover. Especially when Krstic sealed space for himself in the paint area, something he does extremely well, L. Rytas was ready and it helped the visitors stay in the game until the end.