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Euroleague Basketball MVP for March: Milt Palacio, Partizan Igokea
March 24, 2008
Only twice before this season had teams ever started the Top 16 with two defeats and still made the Euroleague Playoffs. This month, Partizan Igokea became the third such comeback playoff qualifier in large part because of the trust placed in – and rewarded by – starting point guard Milt Palacio, Euroleague Basketball’s choice as MVP for March. In his debut Euroleague season, Palacio found consistency at the perfect time to help Partizan go deeper into the competition than it has all decade. When the month started, Partizan was tied for last place in its Top 16 group and faced three must-win survival tests against superpower opponents. Its first victim was eventual group winner Montepaschi Siena, which had been undefeated to that point. Next, came Partizan's only road win of the round, against Efes Pilsen. However, those first two victories merely set the stage for a game that fans in Belgrade, Serbia will remember a long, long time. In a winner-take-all classic, Partizan ended the Euroleague reign of defending champion Panathinaikos with an impassioned display of great basketball in the Top 16 finale. At the center of it all was Palacio, averaging 20.3 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists while making 74% of his two-point shots, 55% of his triples and 88% of his free throws during March. And when it came down to the key shot to stay alive or be eliminated, Palacio not only took and made it, but in doing so assured Partizan of its first playoff appearance. For lifting his team to new heights by beating the best, Milt Palacio of Partizan takes his rightful place on this list of this season's protagonists as the MVP for March.
Euroleague Basketball's MVP of the Month honor is in its fourth season. Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team's performance during the previous month. The award for March was decided considering the three Top 16 games played by all teams during that month.
As a Euroleague newcomer and Partizan's only import player, Palacio went through ups and downs while trying to fill the role of on-court leader for a young team during the regular season and first half of the Top 16. When Partizan’s season depended on his leadership, however, Palacio came through with flying colors. In the victory that opened March, at home against Montepaschi, he was nearly flawless: scoring 26 points on 7-for-9 two-point and 9-for-9 free-throw shooting for an index rating of 33, the highest of the Top 16 that didn't win a weekly MVP award. Most important was Palacio's timing, with half his points coming in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead free throws and insurance jumper in the final minute. On the road against Efes Pilsen in Istanbul a week later, Palacio didn't score until after halftime, but quickly poured in 8 of his 11 points total as Partizan gained big leads early and held on for victory. None of it would have mattered, however, if Partizan did not knock out the champions in the sixth and last Top 16 game. Panathinaikos and Partizan had played three close games earlier in the season, with the Greens having won them all by a total of 7 points. This game’s stakes could not have been more start: the winner was going to the playoffs and the loser was going home, eliminated. Palacio got Partizan's sellout crowd even more pumped up than usual with a pair of triples that gave his team momentum in the first quarter. He returned after halftime with another big shot from downtown to help keep the Greens behind. Still, the game proved as close as any before it, 75-73, headed into the final minute. That’s when Palacio stared down and then broke down the Panathinaikos defense with a full-extension driving layup that spelled doom for the champs and euphoria for Partizan and its devoted crowd. Palacio was high scorer with 24 points in the most important game of the decade for Partizan and finished March with an average index rating of 25.3, almost triple his regular season average.
A perfect 3-0 month punctuated by a transcendent victory means that nobody will take Partizan lightly anytime soon, thanks in large part to Palacio. His ability to lead when needed most made Palacio a key to Partizan's historic step forward. Now, he and Partizan's fans will get to celebrate at least once more, when Palacio receives the March MVP award at the team's first-ever playoff home game.
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