Will Thomas and Nikola Mirotic enter Game 3 of the best-of-five Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs series between Zenit St Petersburg and FC Barcelona coming off an opening week of the playoffs in which only one of these two forwards had reasons to be pleased.
Zenit and Barcelona are tied at 1-1 after two games in Barcelona. Zenit can create a major upset if it can hold serve in the next two games on its home court. Moreover, in the first two games of the series, Thomas was one of Zenit's top performers and his team's second-best scorer, while Mirotic's scoring contributions have been almost cut in half compared to the regular season.
Thomas opened the series with 12 points in a memorable 74-76 Game 1 win and then had 17 points in a Game 2 overtime loss. He was 5 for 8 on two-pointers in each contest, knocked down a three-point attempt in the second game and has made all 6 free throws in a series.
Mirotic had 10 points in the series opener, shooting 2-for-6 on two-pointers and 2-for-2 from long range. In Barcelona's Game 2 win, Mirotic was held to 8 points, making just 1 of 6 two-point shots and 1 of 2 triples, while pulling down 4 rebounds.
The 8 points Mirotic scored in Game 2 were the second-fewest he's had in a single game this season, and since he spent 31 minutes on the court that that night, it is safe to say that Game 2 felt like his worst scoring night of the season.
Obviously, averaging just 9.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and a PIR of 4.5 is far below from what Mirotic has contributed the entire regular season – or even in two regular-season games against Zenit. Mirotic enters Game 3 as the league leader in average PIR (20.7 per game). He ranks fourth in scoring this season (16.3 ppg.) and also fourth in rebounding (6.0 rpg.). Those averages were, obviously, even higher before the series started.
Thomas, on the other hand, is averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds and has had up-and-down performances throughout the season, but his playoff performances improved his season-long numbers.
Interestingly, the two players have very similar field goal percentages this season, with Mirotic shooting the ball just about 1 percent better. They have incredibly pulled down an identical number of rebounds this season.
Thomas averages 26:08 minutes per game compared to Mirotic's 25:51, however, it is important to consider that Thomas is one of only three players in the EuroLeague this season who have started each of the 36 games, while Mirotic has 28 appearances.
Zenit's defense is managing to contain Mirotic, which is something Zenit managed to do to a degree in the regular season, too. The Barcelona star scored 14 points in each regular-season game against Zenit. In Round 2 in St. Petersburg, a game Zenit won, Mirotic shot 6-for-6 on two-pointers, but 0-for-6 from long range. In Round 22, Mirotic spent part of the game in foul trouble and was 3 for 8 from the field with 3 rebounds.
Thomas averaged 8.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists in those regular-season game, but is now playing again at a high level and doing it at the perfect time. It is another reason why all eyes will continue to be on this matchup, as Mirotic hopes to get himself going in this series, too.