Monaco edges UNICS in instant classic to open finals
AS Monaco opened the 7DAYS EuroCup Finals in style with an 89-87 victory over UNICS Kazan at Stade Louis II in a thriller that had 10 lead changes in the fourth quarter alone and wasn't decided until the final buzzer. Marcos Knight scored the go-ahead free throws with 27.6 seconds left and Mathias Lessort made a pair of spectacular defensive plays down the stretch to give Monaco a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series, which now moves to Russia for Game 2 on Friday – and, if necessary, Game 3 – in Kazan. Rob Gray scored 23 points to lead the winners, Lessort posted 17 points and 2 blocks, Dee Bost tallied16 points and 6 assists, Knight scored 14 and J.J. O'Brien 11. Artem Klimenko scored a career-high 22 for UNICS, Jordan Theodore paired 15 points with 8 assists, John Holland added 14 points, Isaiah Canaan 12 and John Brown had 10 before fouling out.
Knight, Bost and Rudy Demahis all drained threes in an 11-2 start in which UNICS's lone basket was a Klimenko slam. Despite a UNICS timeout, Lessort free throws made it a double-digit lead. Canaan scored from deep and Klimenko scored twice as UNICS drew within 13-11. O'Brien and Gray scored to keep Monaco in front, while Jamar Smith took a seat with 2 quick fouls. Abdoulaye Ndoye shined with a block at one end and a hook shot at the other before Nate Wolters's layup ended the first quarter at 23-18. Canaan scored twice in a 0-6 run to give UNICS its first lead, 23-24. The teams traded leads with Holland's first bucket making it 29-30 midway through the second quarter. Gray sank 3 free throws to match a Holland triple and even things at 35-35. Klimenko came back in and made a big impact as UNICS jumped back in front. A tough basket in the paint from Gray closed the gap to 42-44 at the break.
UNICS scored the first 5 points of the second half through offensive rebounds. Klimenko's monster slam made it 44-53. Wolters gave the visitors their first double-digit lead, but Gray answered with a three. Bost also connected from deep and Lessort dunked to get Monaco going. Knight scored off a steal and Gray made an off-balanced bucket in the paint to tie the score at 59-59 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter. A UNICS timeout changed little as Knight scored in transition to cap an 11-0 run. A three-point play by Okaro White nudged UNICS in front again. Bost made free throws and fed Gray for a layup that helped Monaco to a 65-64 lead through three quarters. Brown scored three times as UNICS jumped back ahead, 67-70. A three-point play by Gray tied it and a layup by Knight gave Monaco a 72-71 edge. Klimenko and Theodore gave UNICS a 75-78 edge with 4 minutes left, but Brown fouled out and O'Brien drilled a go-ahead triple. Klimenko scored in the lane and Theodore added free throws for a 79-82 lead with 2:26 on the clock. Gray hit from behind the arc to even the game at 84-84. Theodore gave UNICS an 86-87 edge with a layup with 47 seconds remaining. Knight capitalized on a four-chance possession to draw a foul and put Monaco up with 27.6 seconds left. Lessort knocked the ball away from Theodore, Ndoye grabbed the loose ball and Gray darted down the floor with the ball. He was fouled with 6.1 seconds left and split free throws. Theodore had a layup to force overtime, but Lessort blocked the shot to preserve the victory.
Mathias Lessort showed once again that he is the man for big games. The EuroCup Quarterfinals MVP made clutch free throws to give Monaco the lead with 65 seconds remaining and had a hand in a critical steal and blocked a shot at the buzzer to preserve the win. He finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds. Lessort drew 6 fouls and 7 of 8 free throws for a PIR of 28, which led all players.
Three-point woes for UNICS
A team that relies heavily on its three-point shots, UNICS shot a season-low 14 three-pointers and tied a season-low with just 5 makes from behind the arc. EuroCup MVP Jamar Smith was plagued by foul trouble and did not even attempt a three-pointer for just the third time in his 109 career EuroCup games. Smith also tied a season-low with 2 points.
UNICS usually makes the most of its second unit, especially with Jamar Smith often coming off the bench. However, led by Rob Gray and J.J. O'Brien, the Monaco reserves outscored their UNICS counterparts 48-18. The difference is even starker when looking at performance index rating. The four players who came off the Monaco bench – Gray, O'Brien, Abdoulaye Ndoye and Wilfried Yeguete – combined for a PIR of 37. UNICS's six reserves combined for a PIR of 4.
Klimenko's break out
With Jordan Morgan injured, UNICS turned to Artem Klimenko at the center spot and the big guy more than delivered. He scored a career-high 22 points in 9-of-10 shooting plus 5 rebounds in 22:05 of playing time. Klimenko had totaled 27 points over 66 minutes in 12 games before the finals – including 7 points over five games in the playoffs. His previous career-best was 17 points for Avtodor Saratov against Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem in February 2016.
UNICS hosts Game 2 of this best-of-three series on Friday at home in Kazan. If Monaco wins, it will celebrate a historic EuroCup crown. If UNICS wins, it will host Game 3 48 hours later. UNICS earned the home-court advantage for the series. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was decided that UNICS would host Games 2 and, if necessary, 3 instead of the traditional Games 1 and 3.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021