AX Armani Exchange Milan came into its game against ALBA Berlin as one of the worst teams in the league in terms of assists. Coach Ettore Messina’s men knew they needed to hit their shots to keep ALBA from running - and Milan did just that in nearly setting a club assist record.
Milan dished out 28 assists in a 70-84 victory on the road to pick up its fifth win in the last seven games and stay in the race for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Sergio Rodriguez and Malcolm Delaney both delivered 7 assists while Kyle Hines had 5 and Jeff Brooks contributed 4 assists. The 28 assists were just one shy of the club’s EuroLeague record of 29, which came against Maccabi Tel Aviv in October 2016. It was the second time this season that the squad had 28 assists; the other instance was in Round 8 against Khimki Moscow Region in December.
"That’s the reason you play basketball. That’s why this game is so beautiful. When everybody is sharing the ball, and the ball is moving from side to side, Coach Messina has been preaching this to us all year. It’s great to see the results pay off for us tonight," said Hines, who played his 300th career EuroLeague game and reached 5 assists for just the fourth time.
Despite the big assist game against Khimki, Milan had been averaging only 15.2 assists coming into the ALBA game. It bucked that trend in part thanks to some stellar shooting. Milan made 51.7% of its two-pointers and 50.0% of three-pointers - plus 9 of 14 free throws. Milan committed 15 turnovers, but all those made shots stopped ALBA from getting out and running. The German champs had just 2 fastbreak points in the game.
"If you miss or turn the ball over, they are the best fastbreak team in Europe. They run, they share the ball, they’re extremely dangerous," Messina said about ALBA.
Another aspect of the Milan win was the play of the reserves. While Rodriguez, Hines and Brooks were all assist-men from the bench, Hines added 13 points and Luigi Datome scored 14 - two of Milan’s four players in double figures. All told, the Milan reserves out-scored the starting five 44 to 40, grabbed the same amount of rebounds (both 18 boards), accounted for 19 of 28 assists and committed only seven of the 15 turnovers.
That depth helped overcome a challenge from ALBA and paved Milan's path to three straight wins for just the second time this season.