The second semifinal on Thursday promises a different style of game than the first. Benetton Treviso has all but vowed to push a wide-open floor game against Kinder Bologna, to dare the defending champions to keep up, basket-for-basket, in a race against the clock. Kinder has such depth that the temptation would be to accept the dare, but the conventional wisdom says coach Ettore Messina will slow the game down so as not to waste his team's inside advantage in size and skills. In the end, the result may turn on Kinder's ability to physically resist the call to run that appeals to almost any athlete, and certainly the string of talents on the roster of the defending champs.
All eyes will be on two players who may not match up head-to-head, but are expected to be the driving forces for their teams. Benetton point guard Tyus Edney and Kinder swingman Emanuel Ginobili are two of the quickest players on the planet, and you might be able to gauge the game's momentum on which of them uses his quickness to finish more plays at the basket. Though Edney's drives are also known to set up Benetton's three-point shooters, often including big men Jorge Garbajosa and Marcelo Nicola, Ginobili is expected to score when he drives. Kinder sets up its three-pointers by throwing the ball to center Rashard Griffith, who passes superbly from the post out of double teams. Benetton will double-team Griffith, but probably not until he dribbles once, making his decisions and passes more difficult.
If Kinder decides not to run, it's three-point shooting may become just as determinant as its inside strength. Those passes from Griffith for well-set three-pointers were key to Kinder's success a year ago, and though the big man was injured the middle of this season, they remain an important link in the team's offense. Ginobili shoots better threes depending on the importance of the moment, it seems. Antoine Rigaudeau and Marko Jaric shoot most of the others. But while everyone focuses on Benetton's long-range big men, Marcelo Nicola and Jorge Garbajosa, Kinder has one of its own in Matjaz Smodis. The difference, perhaps, is that Nicola and Garbajosa have to make their threes for Benetton to win, while Kinder can always try something else.
All of which is not to forget the mid-range game, not if high scoring is expected. In this department, Benetton might hold a slight advantage. Shooting from inside the arc but outside the lane, Benetton boasts two forces in Bostjan Nachbar and Sergei Chikalkin. If Kinder's defense is set, their ability to get the ball and find their shots will be key for Benetton. Kinder counters with a superior short-range scorer in David Andersen, who can also go get his own and other rebounds. It remains to be seen if newly-signed Antonio Granger will also add his points to the Kinder mix.
There is little doubt about the tactical challenges here: Benetton must defend well and rebound in order to run; Kinder's big men must control the paint and the boards on offense or be forced to chase their opponents all over the floor. On it's surface, Kinder may seem to need merely to punch the ball inside and get back on defense: In a halfcourt set, it is supposed, Benetton will not be able to do what it must, make three-pointers. But one of the by-products of merely shooting threes is that even the misses become long rebounds, which could negate some of Kinder's size advantage and give Benetton, if it grabs them, better shots against a scrambled secondary defense.
The fact of Kinder's depth could decide this game. There is little doubt that almost any coach in Europe would accept Granger, Smodis, Andersen, Sani Becirovic and Davide Bonora as his starting five. That is Kinder's second five, of course. The outcome may well depend on how they are used and how the Kinder's well-known interdependence between 10 players holds up under one-game, single-elimination Final Four pressure. Only five players can be on the floor at one time, and with Benetton's uncharacteristic style, Kinder will need to be as precise as ever in its rotations, both substituting and defending, to make all its advantages - size, depth and the homecourt advantage - pay off.
Thursday, May 2, 2002