Counting on as many as nine Turkish Airlines Euroleague rookies on its roster, and having just two players back from last season, reigning 7DAYS EuroCup champion AS Monaco faced a tough challenge against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in its the 2021-2022 season opener. But neither the lack of experience nor the lack of team chemistry stopped AS Monaco from making its Euroleague debut a forever-lasting memory.
"Before the game, we had huge excitement. We had to take the pressure under control, mentally," recognized AS Monaco head coach Zvezdan Mitrovic right after the game. And his team did, as Monaco started with a 5-0 run and never trailed for the rest of the game, claiming a convincing 75-63 win over the six-time Euroleague champions.
"In the game, my players played very smart, my staff did a great job analyzing Panathinaikos, especially on defense, even though we had not much time to prepare for the game. Maybe I feel surprised by how we won the game. I wouldn’t say easily, but this way," Mitrovic said.
On the court, the hosts found the right answers from Euroleague veterans like Mike James (31 years old, eight Euroleague seasons), Danilo Andjusic (30, four Euroleague seasons), Donatas Motiejunas (31, three Euroleague seasons) and Leo Westermann (29, 11 Euroleague seasons). The four combined for 46 out of Monaco's 75 points - and more than half (53) of the team's total PIR (89).
"We didn’t have stress, we didn’t feel nervous, because we have a team in which there are a bunch of players with a lot of experience playing at this level. We prepared ourselves to be ready to play at this level," Andjusic confessed after the win. The guard shined with an outstanding performance of a Euroleague career-high 17 points in just 14 minutes.
His great offensive contribution was not what Andjusic had in mind when asked about the key for the victory, though: “Even last season, when Monaco won the EuroCup, it was known as a great defensive team, so that’s what we try to do this season: to make easy points in transition coming from that defense and share the ball. I think the guys did a great job of that tonight and that’s our signature, what we want to do every game."
The numbers confirmed what Adjusic said, as Panathinaikos struggled offensively all game long and finished with 23-of-50 shooting on two-pointers (46%) and 4-of-20 on threes (20%).
"We had a lack of creation, not good passing, sometimes we were very static and unfortunately when we created open shots, we didn’t make them. We have to help ourselves on offense because on defense I have no complaints, but you have to play on both ends”, recognized Panathinaikos head coach Dimitris Pfitris.
Enjoying a 22-point difference midway through the fourth quarter, Monaco had the opportunity of celebrating a historic win much sooner than the sound of the final buzzer.
"We got a nice win over a big team and, you know, it’s always good to start the season with a win. We played well today, everybody can share the ball and it was a great team effort. That was a good win to have," former Panathinaikos player James added.
Andjusic went further and also revealed his optimism about the future: "Of course, it’s a big thing for everybody, for the club, and I’m glad that we got the win on opening night. We are a new team, all the team is new and we still need time to get to know each other, to get better, but we can achieve good things if we keep playing like this."