Heading into the second week of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs 2-0 down and needing to win all three possible remaining games to advance, it was pretty clear that FC Bayern Munich needed its star players to step up and shine when AX Armani Exchange Milan arrived at Audi Dome on Wednesday night.
During the regular season, Bayern’s biggest star was Vladimir Lucic. The 31-year-old Serbian forward led the team with an average PIR of 17.7, delivering 13.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and also spending a team-high average of 30:51 on the court. And more than just those stats, Lucic could always be relied on to produce big moments when his team needed them, most notably with game-winning free throws and a blocked shot to secure Bayern’s playoffs place with a Round 33 victory over Zalgiris Kaunas.
In the first two games of the playoffs series in Milan, however, Lucic hadn’t quite delivered at his usual high standards. He made 1 of 6 field goals in Game 1 to contribute just 6 points and tallied a modest total of 11 points as Game 2 also ended in defeat.
If Lucic felt like he had something to prove in the first of his eight EuroLeague seasons that have seen in the playoffs, he certainly did that on Wednesday night. Lucic was all over the place as Bayern sealed a historic first-ever playoff victory for any German team, easily leading all scorers with a career-high 27 points and also grabbing 7 rebounds for a PIR of 35 – a joint personal best.
Again, Lucic’s importance went beyond the raw data because many of his contributions came at key moments in the game. First, it was his triple that sparked a 14-0 run in the first quarter, giving Bayern its first big lead of the game. Then, after Milan rallied to take its first – and only – lead of the night at 32-33, he quickly struck back to restore his team’s advantage before the break.
Lucic was then the key protagonist in the third quarter as Bayern once again surged clear, scoring 12 points in 3 minutes to open a 60-45 margin. And finally, when Milan threatened a late comeback, it was the Serbian who led Bayern’s resistance. After the gap was narrowed to 64-58 – as close as Milan would get, Lucic promptly drained another triple to steady any growing nerves. And in the final minute, he converted 5 free throws to ensure his team kept the series alive.
In the end, Lucic spent 34:20 on the floor, at least 5 minutes more than any other player. His non-stop contribution epitomized everything good about Bayern’s performance, showing that the German team can rely on his leadership as it attempts to make an already excellent season even better.