Game of the Week: Beware of ALBA and Baskonia

Oct 14, 2021 by Frank Lawlor, Print
Game of the Week: Beware of ALBA and Baskonia

The early games of the season's first double-round week served very nicely to turn up the dramatic heat in the still-new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season.

The first night of Round 3 gave us three games decided by a single shot and a massive comeback to shock the champions. The round ended with an overtime thriller between previously unbeaten teams.

Round 3 also brought ALBA Berlin and Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz into the win column just before their showdown in Round 4's Game of the Week on Thursday.

ALBA and Baskonia had been 17th and 18th in the standings after two games that they lost by a total of 36 and 39 points, respectively. And each had played once already at home, so there was no ready excuse. Then again, neither would ever resort to excuses, and they proved that earlier this week

ALBA, beset by injuries to its big men so far, staged remarkable swing in the scoreboard to down Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul 84-70 on Tuesday. Down 25-35 just before halftime, ALBA went wild from there, outscoring Fenerbahce 59-25 the rest of the way.

Also on Tuesday, Baskonia watched a game-winning three-point try by Panathinaikos OPAP Athens hit short off the rim to hold onto an 81-79 home win. A 38-26 rebounding advantage made all the difference. That included 15 offensive rebounds, which is Baskonia's average in that department to date.

One of these teams will be a solid 2-2 after tonight's game and sit solidly in the upper reaches of the standings, but make no mistake that both are dangerous going forward. They are the kind of teams you underestimate at your own peril.

ALBA has been molded in recent years to play a style very much its own. The ball moves quickly through passing rather than dribbling and the offense rarely depends on any one or two or even three players. Everyone has the right to shoot good shots and the offense is full of passers who like to find their teammates.

Team captain Luke Sikma is entrenched in the low post while homegrown speedster Maodo Lo leads the perimeter, but they get plenty of help, especially with the additions of Yovel Zoosman, Jaleen Smith and Oscar Da Silva providing a variety of options in the swing positions.

ALBA's quartet of centers -- Ben Lammers, Johannes Thiemann, Kresimir Nikic, Christ Koumadje -- have played one game between them this season, so when they are back, even more balance and weapons await unsuspecting opponents. Also out for the time being is veteran shooter Marcus Eriksson, who is simply capable of getting as hot from long range as nearly any EuroLeague players.

Baskonia's woes cannot be traced to injury, although team leader Alec Peters has yet to debut this season. Still, the Basque team had more roster turnover than most last season, and six new faces are still learning what Baskonia Character is all about. Jayson Granger has returned to help transmit that ethic to newcomers like Wade Baldwin, Matt Costello and Steven Enoch. But rest assured that all of them are in Vitoria-Gasteiz because the team already recognized that they have the heart to uphold a tradition built around leaving everything on the floor, every night.

It's probably no coincidence that Baskonia found a couple of its players in the ranks of ALBA: do-it-all forward Rokas Giedraitis, who came over from Berlin three years ago, and Landry Nnoko, who was there two seasons ago. ALBA is also where Granger spent last season before returning to Baskonia.

What these two clubs have in common is simple: they live for basketball. Others may have more extended sports offerings under one roof and the huge fan bases that go along with that. But these two have always eaten, slept and breathed basketball, as have their fans.

That's why no short-term losses ever deflate Baskonia or ALBA. Theirs are the opposite of fair-weather fans. That their team may be low in the standings and down 50 points at halftime means little them precisely because they love basketball and are there to participate in the game. Hitting bottom only tells them they will be along for the whole ride upward.

That kind of fan faith is infectious, especially early in the season, when they sense a turnaround, which one of these teams will complete tonight. And you need not be from Berlin or Vitoria-Gasteiz to feel it, too.