Union Olimpija christens their brand new arena with a double overtime win over Efes Pilsen, JR Giddens’ explosion isn’t enough to get Asseco Prokom past Khimki, and Brose Baskets and Lietuvos Rytas take a beating. Freaknick covers all the day’s action with both the spoken and written word. Lets get it:
Stozice Arena is smiling tonight from ear to steely ear, though those same ears may be ringing until tomorrow. Because after taking two entire EL seasons to register a mere three wins, Union Olimpija christened their new digs with a W in a single try. With talent, logic and experience on the Efes bench, the Slovenia’s oldest club countered with effort, perseverance and most importantly, some of the best basketball fans this world has ever known. When an Igor Rakocevic fadeaway drew iron with :03 left in regulation, you knew that it was just a matter of time before Goran Jagodnik, Kevinn Pinkney and the rest willed the hard luck Olimpijans to a victory. Jagodnik, four years removed from his last Euroleague experience with Prokom, was the consummate leader for his youngsters, hitting three triples and getting to the line nine times en route to 21 huge points. Pinkney shot five from deep, four of which came during a stretch of three possessions in the fourth quarter. Pinkney hit two, the first to tie things at 64 with 2:00 left.
The good news for Efes Pilsen is that Igor Rakocevic is back to his old self under Coach Velimir Perasovic, scoring 23 points in this one, and Andrew Wisniewski, though quiet tonight, is a great luxury to have at point along with FIBA hero Kerem Tunceri.
A terrific win for Union Olimpija, and a bigger win for Ljubljana and even Slovenia as a whole.
Khimki defended homecourt to start the season with a victory over Asseco Prokom, so I could’ve opened this write-up off with “Asseco Prokom sure is feeling the absence of Qyntel Woods.” But that would be a slap in the face to JR Giddens, who put up one of the best Euroleague debuts I can remember with 20 points on 9/12 shooting and 10 rebounds. I could also lament David Logan’s departure to Caja Laboral, but Daniel Ewing’s move to shooting guard is already paying dividends as the former Blue Devil dropped 18 points to go along with team highs in assists (3) and steals (4).
Prokom’s problems were nothing new: a lack of ball movement. With a team full of self creators, the Polish team combined for a measly 8 assists, which looks even worse next to 15 turnovers. Guards Mike Wilks and Bobby Brown would over penetrate, holding onto the ball a dribble more than they needed to before passing or shooting. Considering this is the first game they’ve all played together, Tomas Pacesas has to consider a 6-point road loss to a very solid Khimki team as a reason for hope.
Speaking of that very solid Khimki team…
I caught a little grief from my colleagues for ranking Moscow’s B-Team 9th in my initial Hoopsquad Hierarchy. A week later, I feel fine. Very fine, because for most teams, a bad day can spell disaster. For Khimki, half of the roster needs to have a bad day in order to suffer a huge collapse. Last year’s team was similar in depth, but this year’s crew is full of guys who will rarely take away from the team’s general productivity. Paulius Jankunas’ streaky shooting is replaced by Sergey Monya’s basketball IQ and toughness. Instead of Javtokas’ injury issues and Mozgov’s general inability to thrive in a European style of play, Khimki has Benjamin Eze’s complete acceptance of his role: stay put, grab boards, block shots. With the exception of Keith Langford, who had 17 points, everyone is content to move the all around and take whatever comes their way. Nine men played five minutes or more; seven of those finished with rankings of 10 or higher.
Khalid El-Amin cannot arrive in Vilnius quickly enough. Lietuvos Rytas’ offense had no direction and one of Europe’s deadliest shooters, Martynas Gecevicius, couldn’t get the looks he deserves. Kenan Bajramovic played his patented tough brand of basketball, but all the grit in the world couldn’t have helped his 1/13, 4-point performance tonight.
Jonas Valanciunas had to be Rytas’ bright spot tonight. The 18-year-old über center never looked fazed in his Euroleague debut, hustling harder than any top prospect in the history of lazy, self-absorbed top prospects. His sweat was rewarded with a 10-point, 11-board performance in 16:47. Why only 16:47, you ask? He fouled out. Sometimes excessive hustle betrays you.
Another of Europe’s aggressive young rebounders is Gasper Vidmar, and he followed up his FIBA coming out party with a new career high, 17 points, along with 5 boards and 3 steals. And Gasper’s antithesis happens to play for the same team, which happened to work out well tonight. His name: Darjus “Clog” Lavrinovic. But for all the jabs I throw at the big Lithuanian, he did the damn thing today: 21 points in 22 minutes on 6/8 shooting. Add Kaya Peker’s 11 rebounds in 15 minutes and Oguz Savas’ 10 points in 13 and you’ve got yourself a hell of a frontocurt. It didn’t even matter that offseason acquisition Marko Tomas only had three.
Both teams shot exactly 20/37 from inside the arc. Both teams turned the ball over 16 times. Both teams grabbed a total of 31 rebounds. Brose Baskets even got to the free throw line 23 times, 11 more than Virtus Roma. Not the sorts of numbers you’d expect out of an 18-point contest. The difference: ball movement. I’m talking 19 assists for Roma compared to 5 for Brose Baskets. That gets you open looks, and when you get open looks, here’s the difference…
Don’t scramble for your calculator; I’ve got you covered. Roma hit 11/22 (50%) from deep while Brose only managed 3/17 (18%). Ouchie.
Credit Darius Washington and his 5 first half assists with setting the tempo and waking up the offense, and Jacopo Giachetti for keeping it flowing whenever he took the reigns. Also, it appears as if Charles Smith and his 16 points won’t have any issues blending in with their new teammates. Also, nice to see Vladimir Dasic getting a chance to contribute. Solid numbers in the Italian League and his 10 point, 7 rebound, 3 steal outing today indicate he might be OK after all.