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Second thoughts: Regular Season Round 10 insights
Dec 22, 2013
by Yarone Arbel - Euroleague.net
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.
The Zalgiris show
When the news from Istanbul arrived that Real Madrid has beaten Anadolu Efes there was one happy camp in Bamberg, where two teams were about to tip off. That result meant that Zalgiris Kaunas qualified to the Top 16 regardless of the outcome of its tough road game against Brose Baskets. Actually, Zalgiris had a "choice" between the two Top 16 groups. A loss to Brose would send it to Group E, and a win to Group F. Right before the end of the third quarter, Brose took a 69-58 lead. Brose had to win to make the Top 16. Zalgiris could have switched off then and waited peacefully for the next round. Yet, for the next 9 minutes, the visitors did the exact opposite, storming the floor with a 2-22 run over 8 minutes to take an astounding 71-80 lead. During that run, each side turned the ball over just twice. The difference was in the execution. Zalgiris missed only 4 shots in that span, 3 of them from long range. Brose hit only 1 of 12 attempts with no fewer than six players taking part in the missed-shots-party. On the other end, Ksistof Lavrinovic scored 7 points and Justin Dentmon had 9, combining for 16 of the 22 Zalgiris points in the run. Brose, who won only once in its last seven games, suddenly finished its Euroleague season sooner than it expected.
For the second season in a row Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv won its regular season group with an 8-2 record, with a two-victory margin over the second-place team. Only one team managed to beat Maccabi so far this season, Laboral Kutxa Vitoria. But there is a dark lining on the silver cloud of the first 10 games of the season for coach David Blatt's squad. Maccabi lost 9 of 10 fourth quarters during the regular season, winning those 10 minutes only once, 12-13 on the road against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. Yes, in some cases the fourth quarter was already "garbage time", like in this week's 55-68 road win over Panathinaikos, but half of Maccabi's games were decided by less than 5 points. In the next phase, when the opponents are stronger and the games are tougher, continuing to lose that last quarter could make the big difference between another season in the playoffs or a rare early exit.
The MVP of Round 10 came from a game that didn't matter much for both teams that were already eliminated. Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius hosted Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade and lost 75-99 when Zvezda's Boban Marjanovic posted a career high performance index rating (PIR) of 33 in a very unique fashion. We'll get back to that in a second. Boban is surely one of the most unique players in the competition. It's not only his size at 2.21 meters, but also his body, which is just huge. Players that tall are often rather slim, but Boban is pretty darn big. He was actually already a member of CSKA Moscow when coach Dule Vujosevic took over back in 2010-11, but that season wasn't a good memory for CSKA, and Boban as well finished his time there very early. His next destinations weren't very fruitful either, and only last season he managed to earn some credit back playing for Mega Vizura in his native country Serbia.
Signed over the summer by Zvezda, Marjanovic started his Euroleague return with double-doubles in the first two weeks, but then fell to inconsistency, the one thing that still stands between him and greatness. When he's on, however, Boban is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the Euroleague. This week he posted 25 points on 11 in 13 shots, with 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block and 33 PIR in just a little less than 18 minutes. That's a ratio of 1.85 PIR per minute, and that's not a common happening at all. Of the top 25 single-game PIR performances in the history of the Euroleague, nobody had such great efficiency. The closest was the legendary Nikola Vujcic with 46 PIR in 26 minutes, which is equal to 1.75. It will be interesting to see if Boban carries over his ability to dominate as Zvezda moves into the Last 32 round of the Eurocup.
The face of the regular season
One of the most memorable images of this season will be the close up on the stunned face of Montepaschi Siena's head coach Marco Crespi right after Jayson Granger hit the buzzer-beating shot that eliminated his team from the race to the Top 16. It was heartbreaking to watch Crespi just stare at the court in disbelief for severral long seconds, knowing how close his team came to advancing, and how the Top 16 slipped away because of a shot that will go through the rim maybe once in 50 attempts. Montepaschi was ready to play the overtime, and with a win there to qualify to the Top 16 over Unicaja, yet the #1 Play of the Week caught them off guard. A quick review on what went over coach Crespi in the last weeks is in order.
Montepaschi started the season with four defeats in a row, and then started its comeback, which featured five thrillers in six weeks. Only in Round 7, when it pulled a calm 71-62 home win over Bayern Munich, did Montepaschi avoid living on the edge. Round 5 was a two-point win in Malaga thanks to Jef Viggiano's buzzer-beater. The following week was a two-point loss in Istanbul to Galatasaray Liv Hospital. Then the Bayern game, then another close win, by just one point at home against Stelmet Zielona Gora, again with Viggiano beating the buzzer. Last week, Montepaschi led inside the last minute in Piraeus only to lose 78-73, and this week was the finale. Montepaschi is one of the cornerstone clubs of the new Euroleague with four Final Four appearances. The first came in 2002-03, when it was just the second club ever to turn its Euroleague debut into a Final Four appearance. The second came the following season, putting Montepaschi on a short list of prestigious teams to have made back-to-back Final Fours. Their fourth, and last, visit to the grand event was in 2011.
Actually, this is only the second time ever Montepaschi is eliminated so early in the season. The first time was in 2005-06, the last season that the club also failed to qualify for the Euroleague, which caused the team to play the Eurocup in 2006-07. How did they bounce from that? With a Final Four appearance in 2008. Some of the Euroleague's classic moments included Montepaschi Siena. With a reduced budget and a roster that is far less glamourous than during the great years, the expectations were obviously different, but not having Montepaschi in the latter stages of the Euroleague season is not normal. The disbelieving face of Crespi will be the picture that will sum up this truly heart-breaking season for Montepaschi. How will they bounce back this time?
Real Madrid's dominance I
How dominant was Real Madrid in this regular season? Here are some numbers to prove it:
Highest total performance index rating in a 10-game regular season: 1158.
Most assists in a 10-game regular season: 204.
Most assists in a 10-game regular season: 48.
Highest average victory in a 10-game regular season, 23.7 points per game.
Second-most points in a 10-game regular season, 889, after Caja Laboral's 916 in 2008-09.
Second-most three-pointers made in a 10-game regular season, 107, after Montepaschi Siena's 129 last season.
Madrid is the first team to finish a 10-game regular season with both the competition's best offense and its the best defense.
Madrid led all regular-season teams in two-point defense, allowing opponents to convert only 45.8% of their attempts.
Madrid forced more turnovers than all regular-season teams, 16.4 per game.
Madrid held opponents to the lowest average performance index rating, 52.7, of all regular-season teams.
Real Madrid's dominance II
Here's how dominating Madrid was, but from a different point of view. Its +237 points differential shattered the previous record held by archrivals FC Barcelona, which also won 10 games but with a points differential of +208. All five of Madrid's group opponents finished with negative points differentials, something that never happened before. EA7 Emporio Armani Milan needed only five victories to finish second in the group, which only happened once before. Finally, all three Top 16 teams that finished behind Madrid - Milan, Zalgiris and Anadolu Efes - would hold positive points differentials if you remove their games against Madrid. That's the mark of true difference-maker.
Real Madrid wasn't the only unbeaten regular season team, of course. Back-to-back champ Olympiacos Piraeus went 10-0 in the regular Ssason, and for the Reds it was a first, too. Indeed, this marked the first time in six years of 10-game regular seasons that two Euroleague teams finished with perfect records. To show how difficult that is, only once before did we have one team go 10-0 and another finishing 9-1 in the same regular season, so two perfect runs are a true rarity. Keep in mind, the first two teams to have 10-0 regular seasons were Regal FC Barcelona in 2009-10 and CSKA Moscow in 2011-12. The first ended up winning the title. The second reached the finals and lost the crown in the last seconds. Are we in for another Olympiacos-Real title game?