By Rob Scott and Sam Meyerkopf
In this era of real-time information and instant opinion-making, we know you can’t wait any longer than you have to for reading material, so here are our fresh-from-the-buzzer thoughts on tonight’s games, ready to digest with your morning coffee.
Efes knocked off Real Madrid, and now every team has at least one loss. This is Efes’ sixth in a row, but that included two easy ones over the German pair, so this was a real statement that they aren’t messing around.
Madrid went into the game with the best Defensive Rating in the Top 16 but gave up 46 points in the first half as Efes’ accurate ball movement, aggressive playmaking by Lucas and complete dominance inside were far too much to handle. Lucas underlined their early advantage with a swooping, crushing jam and Madrid were down 32-19 midway through the second quarter.
Madrid did enough to win in the second half, but more than enough to lose in the first. They limited Efes to 28 second half points, but the damage was done before halftime. Pablo Laso opted to start with Rafael Hettsheimeir at power forward alongside Mirza Begic, which was an odd choice when the opposition was Semih Erden and Dusko Savanovic. By all means put either one on Erden, but why a ‘twin towers’ lineup made any sense in this game is anyone’s guess. As Simon Jatsch of In The Game pointed out, that lineup got killed by Barcelona last week. Stanko Barac and Marcus Slaughter were matched up on the second units, and the Bosnian was just too long and too strong for Slaughter. Mahmuti was ahead in the matchup battles and Slaughter had his worst game of the Top 16, goaltending two shots that had already hit the glass.
Efes’ pick and roll defense was superb, with the bigs blocking off the roller’s path to the lane, forcing awkward midrange jumpshot attempts by the guard, mostly Sergio Rodriguez. One thing you have to watch out for when defending this play against Madrid is Felipe Reyes darting down the other side of the lane to where the big man rolls, either to get the pass or crash the glass. He did that late on when Madrid came back into the game, a putback giving them the lead at 60-59, but Efes took control with a 7-0 run, which should have seen them home and dry.
Laso went with Rodriguez and Rudy in the backcourt in crunch time, with Llull nowhere to be seen. Even though Jaycee Carroll rimmed out a game winner, that and the two previous Madrid possessions were defended pretty well. Rodriguez couldn’t shake Farmar and had a three point attempt blocked, Mirotic made a difficult shot look easy when they did score, and Rudy’s drive to the basket on the final play was cut off, forcing an improvised pass to Carroll that he fumbled before firing off a hurried shot.
Efes have now beaten an elite team and look like a real contender. Madrid shouldn’t be too worried either. The defense tightened up in the second half and in a long Top 16, there are going to be halves, even full games where a team isn’t at it’s best.
Random cool thing that happened: Lucas whipping a pass from his knees, from near the sideline, straight to Barac for the open dunk. Not just to notice the pass, but to put so much gas on it. One of those improvisations that can really shift momentum.
Thing I didn’t like: Madrid’s transition defense. Not like they could blame a hectic Copa schedule for any tiredness. Even if they did play five quarters with Barcelona, that was a week ago.
A tight game all the way through between a Brose team still looking for their first Top 16 win and a Zalgiris team trying to find it’s identity after losing Ibby Jaaber. And we even got an overtime. But Brose, once again, came up short in a close game. The past three seasons it seems no one has lost more close, meaningful games than Brose. They continually come up short in the clutch, spare the one time they got over the hump against Partizan to even get to this Top 16.
Late in the game Zalgiris went with a three guard lineup of Oliver Lafayette-Marko Popovic-Rimantas Kaukenas. A very skilled offensive lineup at finding their own shot but with no one fully capable of running an offense. It showed. Zalgiris at certain possessions down the stretch, through great individual effort, found some good shots (mostly three’s). Most of the time though, the shot clock would wind down as the three guards would poke and prod but not do much to help each other collectively. This is where Jaaber was huge. Whether with a lead or down a few, he always had control. Offense or defense. He steadied the offense and ran them through their half court plays and anchored the defense up top as the first defender. His missed presence is the missing piece that will haunt Zalgiris’ advancing chances. Even with their inconsistencies, Zalgiris still found a way to make enough shots, most of them being three pointers late.
Brose relied entirely on it’s outside shooting and Anton Gavel penetration. Gavel forced it and forced it until Zalgiris was too tired to stop him. He finished with 25 points.
The game ended when Gavel took a hard drive to the basket, got fouled, and sank both free throws to go up two with just a few ticks left. Zalgiris came down, got the ball into their most dangerous players’ hands (Popovic who had 21 points of his own), and he went to work. Gavel used the same over-aggressiveness to get Brose the lead on defense against Popovic. Marko dribbled right up to the trey line, rose up, with Gavel initiating all type of contact, and got the fouled called for three shots. Popovic stepped up to the line, put home all three shots, and handed Brose another gut punch loss. A slow, elongated, incredibly painful gut punch. I still feel sick just thinking about it.
Random cool thing that happened: Sharrod Ford hit three treys. Seriously three. I’m not even joking, go check it out. One was late in crunch time too.
Thing I don’t like: Ibby Jaaber being gone. Please come back, please.
This was always going to be tough for Maccabi without Lior Eliyahu (injured) and Malcolm Thomas (cut) but they spent too long in this game with a four guard lineup. By too long, I mean more than thirty seconds. Although Barca let a 14 point lead slip to only three in the final seconds, Ante Tomic continued his transformation from wet blanket to Croatian Tim Duncan and sealed the victory from the line. Ricky Hickman did his best early and late to drag Maccabi to victory, but this was an easy win made to look difficult.
Barcelona can’t play new signing Brad Oleson in Euroleague, as he’s what we call “cup tied” in England. I’m sure you can work out what that means. It also means more time for Sarunas Jasekevicius, for better or worse. Saras turned back the years with 14 points and three assists in 22 minutes and it’s still a joy to watch him run a pick and roll. But his turnover near the end allowed Maccabi back into a game that should have been over. He’s an all-time great, but I’m not sure Saras is still a guy you want in the game at crunch time. But I have been known to be wrong.
Random cool thing that happened: Down five, inside twenty seconds to go, and Maccabi knew they were going to have to score twice to win or force overtime. Ricky Hickman went for the quick two rather than throw up a three pointer. As friend-of-ELA Matteo Zuretti put it.
Thing I don’t like: Maccabi being 2-5. The Euroleague playoffs happening without them would be sad, but it is looking increasingly likely.
Marcus Williams won this with a stepback three. It was the most Marcus Williams play since the last time Marcus Williams took and made a shot that would make him look like the best guard in Europe if you showed someone a very selectively edited highlights package, and that someone had never seen him play anywhere before.
I didn’t see much of this game, but I did see the game winner as it happened, and I knew it was going to go in, because that’s what Marcus Williams does. Berlin’s only scorers in double figures were Deon Thompson and Nijad Djedovic, both with 16. That also sums up Berlin’s Top 16, sitting at 1-6, the only victory against fellow Germans Bamberg. Their points totals in those games are 63, 57, 62, 73, 82, 56 and 65. See if you can guess which game was the 82. If you can be leading Unicaja at halftime but then give up a 21-9 third quarter and lose on a buzzer beating three that the whole world knew was coming, you probably don’t deserve much luck.
Random cool thing that happened: Marcus Williams hit a three to win the game. I think I mentioned that.
Thing I don’t like: Two German teams being in the Top 16 and Partizan watching from home.
The Milos Teodosic show was in full effect in this one. He finished with 20 points, seven assists, and two steals. Shot 4/6 from three and 3/5 from two. Whether going to the basket for quick finishes, step back three’s, or dishing to his bigs, Teodosic was on today. Maybe it was the matchup vs. Dimitris Diamantidis that inspired him but Milos was close to untouchable. When he plays like this, some would say no other point guards in Europe can hang with.
Sasha Kaun also had a monster game himself. He put up 13 points, eight rebounds, and FIVE BLOCKS. You wonder when he starts getting recognized as a “top defensive force” . Either way he was fantastic.
Panathinaikos hung out for a half but got totally blown out in the 2nd. If Diamantidis isn’t creating for everyone, few others can make their own offense. Unlike their counterparts who have a plethora of guys who can step up from night to night, Panathinaikos always needs a stellar game from Diamantidis. He was only at a decently high level tonight and their offense struggled. After the first few minutes of the third quarter, Teodosic basically put the game away.
Random cool thing that happened: James Gist hit two three pointers. We haven’t confirmed with his mom but expert guesses say that’s the most he’s ever hit while in a gym at one time. History people.
Thing I don’t like: Marcus Banks seems to be getting worse the longer he stay in Athens. It doesn’t make sense to me either.