By Rob Scott / @robscott33
Playoff basketball arrived for 2015 in Istanbul, as Fenerbahçe Ülker outlasted (and that really does describe it) Maccabi Tel Aviv 80-72. Here are some quickfire instant (over)reactions on a frantic Game One:
Jan Vesely was incorrigible, stuffing 23 points violently through the rim as if it had been taunting him about his aborted NBA career. This is what he was born to do: screen, dive to the rim, dunk hard; turn his teammates’ missed layups into alley-oops. The idea that he should do anything other than play at centre seems dumb. No jumper, no problem.
Jeremy Pargo caused outright panic in the first half, as he hit seven of his first nine shots, racking up 25 points overall. He was unstoppable one-on-one, as the absence of Ricky Hickman was magnified. It wasn’t just the scoring; he opened up the defense for others as well, and finished with eight assists. Nikos Zisis didn’t return after halftime until midway through the fourth quarter, and he was burned badly off the dribble. Emir Preldzic backed away like a man bargaining with a hungry bear. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kenan Sipahi tried but were still fighting round screens as Pargo showed them his heels. The best defender Fenerbahçe came up with was fatigue. Pargo ran of gas in the fourth quarter, swapping his aggressive drives for contested jumpers, not quite able to win the race to the rim.
Pargo struggled in the Top 16, but this was his finest performance since at least 2011. But Maccabi needs to find more from the bottom of its roster – Pargo played 37 minutes and his all-action style meant he had nothing left at crunch time. Marquez Haynes isn’t trusted with much, for good reason, and Sylvan Landesberg has been injured. I was fine with riding Pargo all the way in this game, with the way he was killing it. But over the rest of the series, Guy Goodes might need to find Pargo three or four minutes extra rest from somewhere.
Maccabi’s efforts to deny Andrew Goudelock the ball were mostly successful, fronting him aggressively even around midcourt. The leading scorer in the Euroleague only put up eight points on seven shots. I say mostly successful because they might need to rethink their hedging strategy. The trouble with bringing a hedge and trap on Goudelock way out beyond the arc when Nemanja Bjelica is the screener is that unlike most power forwards, Bjelica can create off the dribble, and he punished Maccabi several times in that situation.
Talking of point forwards, Fenerbahçe’s second half comeback rode on the back of Emir Preldzic. Issues defending Pargo aside, this was vintage Emir in the best sense. He finished with a triple-cinco – five points, five assists and five steals. He darted into passing lanes, squirmed away from defenders and created off the bounce like an elite playmaker. Check the highlight video from 1:05 onwards.
Alex Tyus had four goaltends. Not of the Josh Powell variety, just efforts to block shots that came fractions of a second late. Still, calm down Alex Tyus. You can’t block ’em all.
Maccabi led by 10 with 13 minutes to go, but they did it off the back of Pargo’s Derrick Rose impersonation. Whether that can be repeated is doubtful. It’s tempting to conclude that the champions landed their best punches tonight but the challengers absorbed them and fought back. Fenerbahçe had already sewn up the win in the final minute but Vesely bouncing up off the floor in celebration at taking a charge from a spent Pargo was symbolic of how momentum of the game – and maybe the series – shifted.