After going through a coaching change and suffering six losses in its last seven Turkish Airlines EuroLeague games, KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz was in what felt like a must-win situation on Friday against visiting Panathinaikos OPAP Athens.
"We needed victory like water," new head coach Velimir Perasovic admitted after the game.
His star performer, Tornike Shengelia, put it this way: "Not because of the standings, but mentally, we knew we needed to win, especially at home."
Fully understanding a difficult situation is one thing; doing something about is another. Knowing that falling behind early would multiply the degree of difficulty for his team in this crucial game, Shengelia made sure that Baskonia got off to a good start with a fantastic first-quarter performance.
Baskonia led 20-12 after 10 minutes, and Shengelia literally had his hand in every single Baskonia point in that first quarter. He scored 11 himself, but also assisted each of the other 4 field goals, including one triple, that Baskonia scored in the opening stanza. Coach Perasovic's team took the lead from the get-go and refused to relinquish it the entire game.
"You could tell Shengelia wanted to win from the jump ball, and we did not have any answers for him," Panathinaikos guard Keith Langford, who netted 33 points himself, said after the game. "Shengelia had 10 points in the first couple of minutes, and gave his team confidence and it was difficult for the rest of the night."
You know it was a special type of performance when compliments come from the opposing side, especially from a player of Langford's status. Shengelia had one of the best all-round performances of his career, and finished with 16 points, 7 rebounds and a new career high of 7 assists. It fueled Baskonia to a badly need win, and sent a message that there is plenty of fight left in this team.