When last we saw the Game of the Week protagonists for Round 21 – Brose Bamberg and Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens – playing on the same floor in central Germany where they will meet tonight, something seismic happened.
It was Round 3 of last season's regular season and both teams arrived with 1-1 records. Bamberg, which had knocked on the door of the playoffs the previous season, had lost its opening game two weeks earlier by one point on the floor of eventual champion Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul. There was no shame there, nor was there any for Panathinaikos in having lost at CSKA by a few points, but anyway the Greens had just changed coaches due to a domestic loss against archrivals Olympiacos Piraeus. Xavi Pascual's first game with Panathinaikos was that night in Bamberg, and if you believe in omen's, he received a good one as the game ended.
Panathinaikos had trailed by 10 with 3 minutes left but worked its way back to have a chance to win at the finish. Down a point and inbounding after a timeout, Panathinaikos had 8 seconds left when Nick Calathes passed to K.C. Rivers right under the basket. But a quick back-door layup try by Rivers missed and it looked like game over for the Greens. At that moment, three black Bamberg shirts were under the basket with Rivers. But Bamberg could only get a hand on the rebound which went up in the air again and fell toward Calathes, who had just stepped in from out of bounds. Calathes got off his feet and snatched the ball from behind off Nikos Zisis, whose hands literally clapped as the ball disappeared.
Meanwhile, Bamberg's biggest body there, Daniel Theis, had fallen in the scramble, so somehow, when he spun around with the rebound, Calathes was alone between the low block and the basket. His easiest of shots off the backboard was completely unmolested, something impossible to imagine in such an end-of-game situation.
Some moments in time change everything, and for that reason the play was seismic.
First, it got Panathinaikos and Pascual off to the right start together. They would win just two more road games in the next five months, both against bottom-of-the-table teams, so that split-second reaction by Calathes against Bamberg was worth its weight in gold.
Alas, that moment became indicative of Bamberg's snake-bitten start to last season, as its record fell to 2-8 thanks to six losses by a total of 11 points, three of them by a single point. Panathinaikos would go on to finish fourth in the regular season, while Bamberg – a team that was expected to at least challenge for a playoff spot – finished six victories from that goal in 13th place.
When they meet tonight, they are in almost identical places as they finished last year, Panathinaikos holding fourth place at 13-7 and Bamberg in 12th place with the opposite record.
Calathes continues to lead Panathinaikos with MVP-type numbers, 13.9 points and a league-leading 8.4 assists per game. He has threatened to post the EuroLeague's first triple-double in more than a decade many times this season, dishing double-digit assists now in seven out of 17 games. But in a sense he came closes that night in Bamberg, with 13 points, 9 assists and 11 rebounds – the only time in his 136-game EuroLeague career that Calathes has rebounded in double-digits.
Bamberg is still figuring itself out. It has beaten the likes of Olympiacos Piraeus, Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz and Zalgiris Kaunas at home, but also has lost in its own arena to teams like Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and Khimki Moscow Region, ceding ground in the playoffs race.
Lately, Bamberg has been playing without its biggest asset, head coach Andrea Trinchieri, who had to have shoulder surgery and has missed several games. Tonight, he is expected to give a locker-room speech and pre-game instructions to his team, but will not be on the bench for a fourth consecutive game.
It would be no surprise if Trinchieri reminds his charges of what happened the last time Panathinaikos came to town, when the importance of every touch of the ball and every last second could not have been more clear. Or, he could just appeal to their taste for revenge. After all, it is still not too late this season for seismic shifts.