Everything changed at halftime. How many times have Zeljko Obradovic's opponents heard that and cringed? It happened again on Friday in Kaunas. Home team Zalgiris and its almost 15,000 close friends were ahead 38-22 midway through the second quarter. They seemed to have the big, bad visitors figured out. In a heartbeat, however, Fenerbahce followed the relentless Kostas Sloukas on a 0-9 run to halve the deficit before the break.
"We were down 15 or 16 points. But I believe we were able to cut the deficit to less than 10 points before halftime," Nicolo Melli said after. "That was important for us, also psychologically. And then...we changed our defense."
That happened in the locker room, where Obradovic has been known to change a lot, although his former players say he can switch game plans in a first-quarter timeout, as well. This time, it wasn't that Fenerbahce was playing so bad as that Zalgiris was firing on all cylinders. The master knew something had to change, and he focused his players on defense first.
"It was necessary to change a lot of things. First of all, our aggressiveness defensively in order to play more smart on offense," he said.
"The players talked to each other. They gave information. Defense is something that a lot of people believe you just play with heart, that to play hard is enough. But no, it's not like this. You need to know at every moment what's going on and to help each other."
That was enough to turn the game around. Fenerbahce outscored Zalgiris 33-48 in the second half and won going away. Obradovic's team now has the league's second-best offense and second-best defense. And, of course, he expects his team to play a lot better.
"We coaches always like everything to be perfect and on the level we expect, but it's not easy," Obradovic explained. "It's just the beginning of the season and we need time, I believe, to play better and for all the players to understand the way we want to play. Here, I am talking to my team and to all the rest of the teams in the EuroLeague."