Kyle Hines has seen just about everything in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague over his career. He had seen the highs of winning titles and the lows of tough losses. And it was that experience that shined through when AX Armani Exchange Milan needed it the most - and helped the Italian side finally get back to the Final Four.
After having witnessed his team inexplicably nearly blow a 12-point lead in the final minute, the 34-year-old veteran ended the drama with a game-saving defensive play for a 92-89 Milan home win over FC Bayern Munich in Game 5.
Hines collected 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a PIR of 22 - his second-best ever index rating in a EuroLeague Playoffs game behind only a PIR of 25 for CSKA Moscow in Game 2 against Crvena Zvezda Belgrade in 2016. And the performance is sending Hines back to the Final Four for a ninth straight time - breaking the record of eight that he shared with J.R. Holden. Three-time European champion Milan is now returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1992.
In addition to Hines, Shavon Shields poured in a career-high 34 points and the two combined to lead the Milan bench, which outscored the starting five 61-31.
After a thrilling first four games of the series, Milan led Game 5 by as many as 17 points and the margin was 16 early in the fourth quarter. But Bayern refused to die and nearly gave this series one more magical comeback. Milan, one of the best teams in the EuroLeague in handling the ball, committed 3 turnovers in a span of 32 seconds in the final minute. Bayern made 2 three-pointers in the final minute and had possession of the ball down 91-89 with 14 seconds to play after a second Shields turnover.
After a timeout, the ball went to Bayern playmaker Wade Baldwin IV, who drove past Malcolm Delaney and only had Hines between him and a shot at destiny for Bayern. But Hines is a two-time EuroLeague Dest Defender and he stretched his arms out and locked up the ball with Baldwin, resulting in a jump ball with 7.9 seconds left. Hines would outleap Baldwin and tip the ball to Shields, who finished the game off with a free throw for the Milan win.
Milan head coach Ettore Messina called the end of the game "one minute of craziness" and added: "If there is proof of the concept of fear of winning, that was it. That was exactly the last minute."
In the end, Hines was there to bring home the win in a big game - something he knows so well having won four EuroLeague crowns and been a member of the 2010-20 EuroLeague All-Decade Team.
Hines wasn't there for his team just at the end but also all game - and really for the first time in a big way all series. He collected 21 points and a combined index rating of 23 in the first four games of the playoffs. But he stepped up in Game 5.
Midway through the third quarter, Milan opened a 16-point lead, but Bayern hit back with 6 straight points. Hines responded with a big dunk and the lead grew to 70-53.
In the fourth quarter, Baldwin drained a triple to pull Bayern within 11 points. Hines answered with a reverse layup and then a monster block of Jalen Reynolds and later added an offensive rebound and another layup and the gap was 82-66 with 6 minutes left.
Hines must have figured that was enough. And definitely when Shields hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer for a 91-79 cushion with just 78 seconds to play.
But basketball is basketball and Bayern had shown all series it was never fully dead until the final buzzer. Hines was called upon one more time to save the day.
The veteran admitted afterward he felt something special would happen in Game 5: "Before I went to sleep last night, my daughter came to me and said: 'Daddy, here’s your magic.' And then when I woke up this morning, my son came in with a Final Four shirt. And I knew it was destiny," Hines said.
It didn't matter what would come, Kyle Hines would be going back to the Final Four.