View from the bench: Top 16, Week 2

Aito Garcia RenesesWorld-renowned as a master teacher of basketball, Aito Garcia Reneses holds a place as one of the most prestigious coaches in Europe. He won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics to go with a ULEB Cup, two Korac Cups, nine Spanish Leagues and five Spanish Cup titles, just to name a few of his accomplishments in almost four decades on the benches of basketball powers like F.C. Barcelona, Joventut Badalona and Unicaja. Aito, as everyone in European basketball knows him, is also a regular contributor to the Mastermind Coaching Seminars of the Euroleague Basketball Institute. He joins to give his coachs point of view and analysis on Turkish Airlines Euroleague games.

After more than 39 minutes of hard-fought basketball between Benet Cantu and visiting Zalgiris Kaunas on Wednesday, anybody could have won.

During the first quarter both teams had a hard time scoring. Most of the baskets arrived through good defensive efforts leading to steals and fastbreaks.

The second quarter was a three-point shootout for both teams. They seemed to be telling each other: "Anything you can do, I can do better - and from farther away!"

In the third quarter, the mental aspects of the game became more important and Bennet Cantu was starting to slow down because its point guards, both great players, seemed insecure. Meanwhile, Zalgiris was becoming stronger, playing much better than during the regular season, and that boosted their confidence to take leads of more than 10 points.

In the fourth quarter any team could have taken the win, but Cantu head coach Andrea Trinchieri rotated his players until he found the combination with the most confidence and shooting accuracy, guys like Maarten Leunen, Vladimir Micov and Nicolas Mazzarino. There was also a great drive by Manuchar Markoishvili (Clip 1), who escapes from his defender and, faced with the help defense of a taller center, gathers himself and jumpes extra high to make the shot and also get the foul for a three-point play that tied the score.

After that, players for both teams scored all their attempts in a parade to the free throw line - except when it was better to miss. In Clip 2, with 5 seconds to go in the game, Sonny Weems intentionally misses a flat shot with barely any arc, so that the ball hits the front part of the rim and goes back to him. (Its possible that he entered the lane a little earlier than permitted, which is when the ball touches the rim, but it is hard to really tell.) He gets it back and scores to tie the game again.

Giorgi Shermadini subsequently missed a second free throw, too, with 2 seconds left. In his case, it was also a smart miss, because even though Zalgiris had no timeouts, a loose rebound made the last 2 seconds harder on Zalgiris, which needed to first pull the rebound and then score from the far end of the court. If Shermadini had made the shot, the clock would not have moved before Zalgiris inbounded, probably with time left to try a long pass or three-pointer.

In the second half, when Cantu defended in a zone, you can see in a composite of Clip 3 and Clip 4 how head coach Aleksandar Trifunovics team move the ball properly in order to score from three-point land through Marko Popovic and Dainius Salenga. Those were the moments when Zalgiris was more confident with its game, at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth.

In another composite, of Clip 5 and Clip 6, we see that both teams were lucky to have players who invented solutions far away from the basket. Gianluca Basile is a specialist at such solutions, as he made one of his 3 three-pointers with no choice except to shoot as the shot clock was expiring. Then we see how Salenga (3 of 3 from the arc) looks at the 24-second clock on the far basket and, seeing that there is little time left, sends up a prayer from far away that falls miraculously through the basket. The shot was ruled good despite Salenga letting go of the ball with 0 seconds on the shot clock. In these situations you can see how difficult it is to make split-second calls, even more if, as in this case, the lights on the backboard do not light up at the end of a possession.

In Clip 7 we can see Nicolas Mazzarino (another 100% three-point shooter) hit the most difficult of his shots from downtown, getting the ball in motion and hitting the bottom of the net to put his team in the game down the stretch.

To summarize, then, it was a good game from both teams, one in which Cantu took the win playing perhaps unevenly compared to other games, but thats because it faced a team defending well. Its also possible that Cantus good showing until made it a favorite, a condition that might have weighed on its players a bit mentally. We can see in Clip 8, however, Cantus continuing capacity to play good team basketball.

Zalgiris has an uphill battle now to advance to the playoffs, but can be satisfied with its progress, particularly how the players are working together both on offense and defense. Robertas Javtokas was brilliant on defense, rebounds and offense against Cantu. Weems is managing to make his physical and technical skills work for the team. We can see him in Clip 9 scoring on the last possession of the second quarter after changing hands with the ball a couple of times to finish his penetration jumping backwards for the shot.

Videos by Manuel Hurtado