Lokomotiv Kuban isn’t a normal Euroleague club. As I’ve written before, they have embraced a quirky identity that revels in being a little off the beaten track. They’re not the first club to use traditional folk dancers as a pre-game hype track, but in Krasnodar, there’s a girl twirling a pair of swords. It’s the kind of display that says ‘welcome, we’re friends… but we could kill you.’The sharpest blade wielded in the ‘Basket Hall’ this season was defense. Georgios Bartzokas has his defenders switch as quickly and effectively as the daggers in the hands of those dancers. That is, until Game Two, when Xavi Pascual could be forgiven for feeling a little smug.
What is it that… you do here?
Even though they sit top of the ACB at 25-2 and 1-1 in a Euroleague playoff series, there’s been a weird absentee vibe from Barcelona this season. A lot of the time they seem to have played with the attitude of a guy who hits the snooze on his alarm clock with a sigh, briefly considers phoning in sick to work, but decides to just go in anyway but do the bare minimum.
Not so on Friday night in southern Russia. They drained 16 of 26 three pointers, piling on 92 points against by far the best defense in the Top 16. Lokomotiv scored the same 66 points that they did in Game 1. That was a 5 point win, but Barcelona took the second by 26. In 40 minutes, Barcelona managed to puncture what looked like an impregnable rearguard.
One way to get the upper hand over a tough half court defense is to get points in transition. Loko were sloppy in possession early in Game Two and Barça jumped all over it. Pascual is pigeonholed as a walk-it up kind of coach but Satoransky stole an errant pass and took off for a layup. Doellman grabbed a defensive board and instantly Perperoglou took the outlet and raced down the floor, drawing a foul. Bartzokas had to call timeout, down 11-5.
As Loko’s offense could only create one contested jumper after another, Barça’s shooting let them run away with the game. It’s really hard to win if the other team makes 16 threes. Was it just a hot streak, or has Pascual picked the lock that nobody else could manage?
Not all of the three-pointers were the result of defensive breakdowns. Some were contested and some were off long rebounds or random breaks. But otherwise, Barça did some clever stuff:
The smartest thing they did was to use weakside action and second screens to make it harder for Lokomotiv to react even with a quick switch, or little wrinkles like guards screening for each other, but there was usually more than one pick that the defense had to read and react to.
Loko defenders did their best to rotate but the passing and screening was so well timed that it was really tough to shut things down. Very few of the shots were wide open, but Barça managed to prise open the door just enough.
The clips above show how they kept the Loko defense moving, but they also hit contested shots at a really high clip. By my count there were five heavily contested threes where the defense couldn’t really have done any more. Navarro threw in a couple, off-balance, that recalled his old nonchalance.
Barça likely won’t hit those kind of shots at one hundred percent for the rest of the series, but the volume of threes given up should concern Bartzokas as he picks his team up from a blowout loss. Randolph did protect the rim pretty well, stuffing Samuels and Tomic, but it won’t be much help if they can’t close off the perimeter.
The other problem for Loko is that Barça’s defense was completely on point. Other than a quick burst from Malcolm Delaney in the first quarter, the visitors gave away nothing. Everything was contested, it was so tough to get penetration that face-up jumpers were the only option. It’s a big risk because Anthony Randolph never met a mid-range jumper he didn’t like, and Pascual will be happy enough for him to shoot Loko out of the series.
There’s no reason why Bartzokas can’t adjust, and I’m sure the film sessions will have been intense. Switching defense has been their signature but they have clever, committed players who are bought into working their asses of on that end. But Pascual has shown in the past that his most potent weapon is the ability to throw in mid-series adjustments. It wouldn’t be the first time that the wily old fox has thrown an opposing coach off the scent.