AX Armani Exchange Milan has not played in the EuroLeague Final Four in 29 years, while FC Bayern Munich is the first German team to reach this stage. Only one of them will celebrate at the end of this series.
Milan is a three-time EuroLeague champion that returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and has not been to a Final Four in almost three decades, while Bayern just made history by becoming the first German club ever to make the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs. However, the fact that neither team has played in the EuroLeague Playoffs in the past six seasons is about the only thing similar when it comes to playoff experience.
Milan's head coach Ettore Messina is a four-time EuroLeague champion as is center Kyle Hines who is hoping to reach his ninth consecutive Final Four. Sergio Rodriguez is a two-time champ and a former EuroLeague MVP and he and Hines are also reigning EuroLeague champs, having won the last title in 2019 with CSKA Moscow. Another former EuroLeague champion on Milan's roster is Luigi Datome. Two players have won at least one playoff series before – Malcolm Delaney and Vladimir Micov, while Shavon Shields also has playoff experience.
When it comes to Bayern, the only player with EuroLeague Playoffs experience is James Gist with 27 appearances at this stage, which is only one fewer than Hines's 28 and four more than the 23 by Rodriguez. Gist played all of his in Panathinaikos Athens uniform, however, and he is yet to win a series.
Making teams go
Bayern depends a lot on its Wade Baldwin IV (15.1 ppg.)-Vladimir Lucic (13.8 ppg.)-Jalen Reynolds (14.1 ppg.) axis. Each of them ranked among the top 14 in scoring this season and no other team has as many players among the top 25. While it makes it hard to stop three such successful scorers, the trio has combined for 55.1% of Bayern's points. Reynolds (5.9 rpg.) and Lucic (4.8 rpg.) are the team's top two rebounders and Baldwin leads the team in assists (3.9 apg.). The three are also the only Bayern players averaging double-digit PIRs. Just one other player, Paul Zipser, averages more than 8 points per game for Bayern.
Milan's axis is double the size. Milan has four players – Kevin Punter, Shavon Shields, Malcolm Delaney and Zach LeDay – scoring in double figures, and two more – Sergio Rodriguez and Kyle Hines - scoring better than 8.0 points per night. Those six account for 82.7% of Milan's points. LeDay (4.5 rpg.) and Hines (4.3 rpg.) are the top two rebounders, and Rodriguez (4.7 apg.) leads the team in assists. Each of the six Milan players average double-digit PIRs, which makes Milan one of only two teams this season, and the only playoff team, with six players averaging better than a 10.0 index rating.
OT thriller and a blowout
Milan swept Bayern with a pair of much different regular-season victories, which ended up giving Milan the home-court advantage for this series. In those games, however, Bayern showed its Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde faces. The last time they played, at Mediolanum Forum where the first two games of this series will take place, Milan cruised to a 75-51 home win back in January. Bayern was held to club-record lows with 51 points, 2 three-pointers made, and a team PIR of 32. His team's performance was so bad that Bayern head coach Andrea Trinchieri said: "[Milan was a] better in every aspect of the game. In concentration, in approach, in toughness, and in understanding in what the game required to be played. We didn't show up, it was a very bad night, we embarrassed ourselves."
Part of his disappointment probably came from the way Trinchieri knew his team competed against Milan in their season opener when the teams battled hard before Milan pulled out a 79-81 overtime decision. Malcolm Delaney paced Milan with 17 points and 8 assists. After that first week of the season, it was viewed as surprising how well Bayern competed against Milan. Now, entering the playoffs, an overtime battle seems like a lot more realistic outcome of a game between these two clubs than the one-sided blowout we witnessed in Round 21.
Home sweet home
Milan has the home-court advantage in this series, but might be feeling the added pressure of protecting its home floor in the first two games. Bayern is the team with the best record in home games during the regular season and Milan will not want to hand that advantage to the German club. Bayern is the only team in the league that won 13 games on its home floor this season. Moreover, two of its four defeats came in overtime, one of which was against Milan in Round 1. On the other hand, Milan has 11 home wins so far, but enters the series having lost two of the last three at Mediolanum Forum. Milan, however, does feel comfortable playing at home and ranks second with 83.5 points scored in home games with a point differential of 116, which is fifth-best.
Levels of connection
It will be a special series for Bayern coach Andrea Trinchieri who returns to his hometown and plays against his alma mater, the team with which he started his coaching career as an assistant in 1998. Trinchieri spent six seasons on the Milan staff before accepting his first head-coaching job in 2004. On the other side is Coach Ettore Messina, whose four EuroLeague titles are tied for second-most in competition history with Pedro Ferrandiz, Alexander Gomelsky and Bozo Maljkovic.
Another Milan man with four EuroLeague titles to his name is Kyle Hines, who started his professional career under Coach Trinchieri at Italian second division side Veroli after the former graduated from college in 2008. Two other Milan players, Vladimir Micov and Jeff Brooks, also played under Trinchieri at Cantu between 2010 and 2013. Malcolm Delaney made his stellar EuroLeague debut with Bayern back in 2013, while Bayern center Leon Radosevic wore the Milan uniform for a year and a half almost a decade ago.