View from the bench: Top 16, Week 5

Feb 24, 2012 by Aito Garcia Reneses - Barcelona, Spain Print
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 FC 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.

There are those who always prefer a festival of points – like a 92-91 final score, for instance – over the 60-59 win by Gescrap BB over Montepaschi Siena on Wednesday. I don't. Of course, if that 92-91 game had intensity and good defense, I would also go for that, but I think it is quite possible to enjoy a low-scoring game like the one played between Gescrap and Siena a lot.

At the same time, I am in favor of the referees (they were rather good in this game) calling everything that needs to be called so that the games don't lose its rhythm. We are too used to hearing things like "make the foul, don't allow the easy baskets" or "let's stop the fastbreaks with a foul", which shouldn't be allowed, I think. Let's see some examples.

In Clip 1, we can see how Shaun Stonerook makes signs with his hands, twice, telling his teammates that they have to commit a foul to prevent Gescrap from scoring because, since Siena has less than four team fouls with little time left at the end of the quarter, Bilbao won't get to the foul line. All that would be correct and proper if the fall was committed while tryng to go for the ball, but it's Stonerook himself who makes fouls Marko Banic when the latter has already surpassed him. It is what is normally called a "tactical foul". I think it should be considered an unsportsmanslike foul.

In Clip 2 we can see how Janis Blums fouls Nikos Zisis when the latter controls the ball and his team runs with numerical advantage. Of course, Blums has no intention of playing the ball. That should also be called an unsportsmanslike foul. I could add a similar foul in which D'Or Fischer fouls on Bo McCalebb in the first quarter, but I don't intend to bore you.

I'll say it again: the refereeing was rather good because everything else was correct. These anomolies I am pointing out are our "same old, same old" in basketball, and I think they are negative for the show of our sport.

Psychological condition

The psychology was really different for each team. For the Siena team of coach Simone Pianigiani it was a difficult situation because they enetered the game with a 4-0 record in the Top 16 after 8-2 in the regular season. They had also just become champs in the Italian Cup last week. It was easy to be relaxed. For the Gescrap team of coach Fotis Katsikaris it was a better situation because they had just won a Euroleague game at Real Madrid and did the same again later in Bilbao in the Spanish League in blowout fashion. However, they were 2-2 in the Top 16 and they had advanced from the regular season group at the last minute with a 5-5 record. They were also playing against one of the most serious teams in the competition. On their side, the full support of a crowd that has stayed supportive despite their team not even qualifying for the Spanish Cup.

The Game

It was low scoring, especially in the first quarter (7-8) and at the break (21-22) as a result of the psychological conditions that I just mentioned and the good defense of both teams.

I will start with a play by the hero of the game, Raul Lopez, a member of the Spanish national team and silver medal winner at the Beijing Olympics with his teammate Alex Mumbru. He has impressive technical skills. It is true that we cannot say the same about his physical condition, but we can say it about his personality, which was well displayed in this game when, with 19 seconds to go, and with a 54-54 tie, he scored two free throws and then did it again with 13.9 seconds left for the 56-56 tie. That's not even mentioning the last play, about which we will talk soon.

On this occasion (Clip 3), Raul penetrates and leans on a pick by Banic, which makes his defender, Zisis, a little bit late. However, Ksistof Lavrinovic's help makes Raul refrain from shooting and pull outside. But, to everyone's surprise, especially Zisis – who was recovering his defensive position with tranquility – when Lavrinovic also moves back to Banic, Raul shoots a hook from outside the paint. That can only be done by players with a certain combination of talent and personality. And there are just a handful!

We have said that defenses on both sides were intense and spirited. There were also interesting technical details as we can see in Clip 4. Aaron Jackson escapes to the basket after a one-on-one move, but Stonerook gets in his way instead of waiting by the rim to try for a block. Stonerook manages to force the offensive foul on Jackson, a much faster and younger player.

That's the importance of smarts in basketball! And also communication! It is a shame that we cannot see the full replay in the video, but we can see the most important thing, the communication among Gescrap's players. With 2 seconds left in the third quarter, as Igor Rakocevic is shooting free throws, Raul talks first with Dimitris Mavroeidis and then with Mumbru about making a long pass from the baseline. Normally, you would give the point guard the ball near the passer and he would dribble downcourt, which is what Zisis prepares for. However, Raul runs away and Mumbru gives him the perfect pass. Even more perfect is Raul's stop and fade away backwards for a jump shot. Unbelievable! (Clip 5).

Banic also played a complete game, using his body well, making good moves. Despite being small for his position, he is tall when it comes to brain power. In Clip 6, let's see him using his body in a one-on-one situation and then end the play with a jump-hook to protect himself from the block.

In Clip 7 we can notice Banic's intelligence and fundamentals when he starts penetrating but stops when David Andersen comes out to help. However, when Stonerook puts too much pressure on him, Banic goes inside again, protecting the ball with his body and, with his man already behind him, there's only Andersen, who he can beat to the shot.

Andersen didn't have a good night, especially comparing it to his usual fine contribution. Also McCalebb, one of the best players in the league, had a rather slow game even though he took responsibility in money time and did good, as we can see in Clip 8, penetrating with speed and power. I liked Coach Pianigiani's seriousness, demanding as always that his players give it all in a game that was not that crucial for the team.

With 13 seconds to go, Rakocevic misses the first free throw and makes the second. Siena defends once more, this time full-court, in order to steal the ball and have the last offensive play. They manage to score again but it wasn't decisive because of a magical Raul Lopez (Clip 9). After the timeout of their coach, the Gescrap players put the ball in bounds with 6.4 seconds to go. Raul gets the ball close to midcourt and after some picks, Banic sets a screen for him. McCalebb gets stuck in the pick. Raul plays one-on-one with Stonerook as you can see in the video. Rakocevic doesn't help and Raul makes another spectacular move to shoot freely.

The result was a great success for the team of Coach Katsikaris because with this win they keep all options to advance to the playoffs for the first time.

Videos by Manuel Hurtado