It was a special game for FC Bayern Munich and you could tell from the atmosphere at Audi Dome. Its opponent, FC Barcelona Lassa, is a well-known opponent and both teams' main football squads have had big battles in European competitions. Barcelona, however, had dominated Bayern in basketball until now, winning their only three previous matchups - two of them in the 2014-15 season and another one in October 2018. In its only previous visit, Barcelona thrashed Bayern 77-99 on November 20, 2014.
It looked like it was going to be the same story again; a really solid Barcelona led 51-63 with 7 minutes left, but Bayern showed its best basketball at the right time, rallied to tie the game and eventually win at the buzzer. Petteri Koponen, who played for Barcelona for two years before joining Bayern last year, picked up in the inbound pass with just 6 seconds left and had enough time to race downcourt, stop and beat the buzzer with the game-winning mid-range jumper.
Indeed, Koponen made the difference in the second half. All of his 14 points came in the final 15 minutes and he had 5 of those in a 14-0 run that he capped with a three-point shot. It was Stefan Jovic, however, who ignited the hosts' comeback. Jovic hit a three-pointer and then threw the ball between Artem Pustovyi's legs to find Leon Radosevic for a big dunk. Bayern played perfect defense for 4 minutes and by the time Koponen struck from downtown, the hosts had a 65-63 lead. Barcelona was not going to surrender and despite trailing 70-67 with 10.6 seconds to go after a three-pointer by Vladimir Lucic, it somehow managed to tie the game, 71-71, barely 4 seconds after that. However, Koponen found space for an open shot and the rest is history.
The win against Barcelona stopped a three-game losing streak and allowed Bayern to keep its playoff hopes alive. The German champion had been heavily outrebounded in each of those three losses - 27-37 against Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, 32-26 against Zalgiris Kaunas and 44-23 against Olympiacos Piraeus barely 48 hours ago, but managed to win the battle under the boards against Barcelona, 38-34, in one of the most important keys to this game.
"We didn't have good concentration, especially on defense against Koponen, a player who is a scorer. He scored 7 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter," Barcelona head coach Svetislav Pesic said after the game. "Not only did he hit the last shot, but he was scoring before. He found open shots and we didn't defend Koponen. We forgot about him and he was alone to hit open shots."
"I was happy that I scored tonight the game-winning basket. Some other days is someone else, but tonight, it was me and it feels good," Koponen said moments after hitting the game-winning shot. "It is a good feeling; I spent two years there [in Barcelona] and know a lot of people from there. Of course, it was a special game, also for me. I had a difficult first half, I think I only took one shot, but in the second half, Coach let me play more and I was a little bit lucky tonight in the end and made the shot."
Bayern must win its last two games - against Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul in Turkey and against Herbalife Gran Canaria at home - and wait for other results. Expect Bayern to stay competitive and keep fighting until the end.