The final 2.8 seconds of the Round 33 game between FC Bayern Munich and Zalgiris Kaunas were perhaps the most transcendent in the competition so far this season. Zalgiris led 69-70 and all the teams in the playoff race – Real Madrid, TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, Zenit St Petersburg and Valencia Basket – had an eye on this game because Bayern win would send it to the playoffs and thus leave just two spots up for grabs. Even the four 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinalists – Herbalife Gran Canaria, AS Monaco and Virtus Segafredo Bologna – had eyes on this game: there may be one or two EuroLeague spots available through the EuroCup depending on the final EuroLeague Playoffs picture.
Bayern inbounded the ball and Vladimir Lucic took a quick shot. Though the shot missed, he was fouled by Joffrey Lauvergne with 2.3 seconds remaining. Lucic had to take the biggest free throw attempts of this career – and also the biggest for any player on a German squad in EuroLeague history. Lucic, an 86.7% free throw shooter this season, did not crack in crunch time; he made both attempts to put Bayern ahead, 71-70.
Zalgiris called timeout to prepare a final play. All eyes were on Marius Grigonis, who already hit a last-second game-winning jumper in a 74-73 home win against Bayern earlier this season. Both Grigonis and Lukas Lekavicius tried to make themselves available for Thomas Walkup, who inbounded the ball, but they were well defended. Walkup ended up finding Lauvergne, who was forced to take an off-balance. Lucic was not guarding Lauvergne but came from nearby to block the shot and end the game. The rest is history.
Bayern won and reached the playoffs for the first time in its six EuroLeague seasons. Bayern also became the first German club to reach the EuroLeague Playoffs since the turn of the millennium. ALBA Berlin had reached the quarterfinals in the 1998 EuroLeague and the 2001 FIBA SuproLeague, where it lost against AEK Athens and Panathinaikos Athens, respectively.
"This is a historic day for German basketball, for Bayern. We made it. Very difficult season, a lot of things to go through, but as a coach I am relieved. But my players should be happy because, from day one, we were chasing a dream. We have some fights through adversities, some bad games, some bad luck, but in the end, we made it," Coach Andrea Trinchieri said, before joking about a potential post-game celebration. "I believe it is a great day for FC Bayern and for German basketball. I will drink a pool of red wine! An Olympic pool!"
The joke continued in the press conference room. "I asked for red wine and they gave me a Coke!" Trinchieri said, and then cited a poem by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.
"In the last 15 days we felt that we were close but never close enough. It is like The Utopia of Galeano. You walk, you think you are walking towards something, but the distance is always the same."
The game came down to small details. Steals and blocks were some of these small yet important details. Bayern had 11 steals and committed just 12 turnovers. Zalgiris collected just 4 steals and made 16 turnovers. Bayern also had 4 blocks, including Lucic's before the buzzer, while Zalgiris had none.
"It is a great moment. We were dreaming about this since the day we started in early August, so it is a big accomplishment for everybody – for the team, for the organization – being part of the first German team who ever [reached the EuroLeague Playoffs]," Lucic said after the game. "But a lot of really important games are yet to come and we need to be ready for the next steps."
Bayern was in familiar territory down the stretch. It has played 18 games this season decided by 6 points or less, and this became its 14th win in such a scenario. One of those four losses came against Zalgiris in Kaunas.
"We like giving our fans a little heart attack sometimes, but we are a greedy team and we are going to fight hard and we are going to compete, and that has been our M.O. from the start - a lot of those situations come down to the end," Nick Weiler-Babb said after the game. "Winning close games like this, it is something special and it makes us tough to beat."
Trinchieri said that he believes this historic win is far from the end of the road: "I want my team to play the playoffs with pleasure, to be part of something super big, the best eight teams in Europe. It is an incredible result, but I don't want to stop dreaming. Why not? We will face, for sure, a great team. We will be the total underdog and I just hope that in this period of time, we are able to recharge, have some players healthier."
And if so, who can predict how much more magic there will be in Munich this season?