There was good news for FC Bayern Munich ahead of Wednesday night's big battle with Zenit St Petersburg: the return of Vladimir Lucic from injury. Lucic had missed the last six games due to a back problem after playing a starring role for the German team earlier in the season, twice claiming the MVP of the Week award as he propelled Bayern's impressive start.
The question, though, was what kind of Lucic would show up. It would have been perfectly reasonable to expect a player who was out of action for six weeks be rusty and perhaps play a few low-intensity minutes to ease himself back. At first, it looked as though that was exactly what Bayern would get from Lucic. The Serbian forward was given the vote of confidence of starting the game by Coach Andrea Trinchieri but made little early impact, failing to score in the first half, although he did register 2 assists and 2 rebounds.
But Lucic is too tough a customer to let his return to action end with a whimper. So, after scoring his first basket in the third quarter, he kept on coming back and stepped up like a true leader in the final period. With the score tied at 56-56 as the game entered the final 10 minutes, he opened the fourth quarter's scoring before quickly adding a three-pointer and a dunk, registering 7 points in less than 3 minutes to open up a healthy lead. And when Zenit struck back, Lucic kept on playing hard. Putting his body on the line to earn repeated trips to the foul line, he held his nerve to convert 6 consecutive free throws – the last couple of which gave his team a 78-75 lead with a minute to play.
Lucic finished the game on the bench after fouling out with 43 seconds remaining, summing up his all-out effort, but he had already done more than enough to help his team take a massive win. His final stat line of 15 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 29 minutes was solid rather than spectacular, but for a player making his first appearance following a six-week injury absence it would be tough to ask for any more.
Trinchieri certainly felt that way, saying: "He was good down the stretch. We cannot expect that after six weeks without running that he's so effective, but he found a way to lead the team."
His teammates also appreciated the effort, as Wade Baldwin IV noted: "We're so happy to have [Lucic] back. Not playing for five or six weeks, he drops 15 points and helps us tremendously."
He definitely did, and Lucic's return to action gives Bayern another reason to believe its current top-four spot can be maintained right until the end of the season.