By Nick Flynt / @JailedFlynt

When last you and I met, dear readers, we discussed Nizhny Novgorod’s entrance into the Top 16 and I noted the question mark that was Taylor Rochestie return into NN’s lineup (though he would not start this game, as he had often done pre-injury). The question has so far been answered like so: 19 points (on 12 shots, counting three shooting fouls drawn) and eight assists (to one turnover) in 23 minutes, coming in a resounding 79-59 road victory over EA7 Emporio Armani Milan.

This game did not open pretty for either team — at the half they had combined to make three combined three-pointers (and it wasn’t for a lack of trying – Nizhny missed their first 10 attempts by my count). Marshon Brooks was the notable scorer for Milan, putting up 11 points in the first half — none of his teammates would manage 11 points individually over the course of the entire game. He’s played well in Lega Basket but this was by a fair margin his most notable performance in Euroleague play since a 17 point (on 15 plays) performance in Round Six against Fenerbahçe. He looked to penetrate and got a couple of layups early – isolation, pick-and-roll play while mostly looking to score, the usual story. He remained aggressive throughout the second half, but Nizhny did a better job walling off the paint in the key third quarter, and Milan didn’t have any other options (outside of an assortment of missed threes, no different than the first half).

On the other side, Parakhouski’s size against EA7, particularly with the long but thin Shawn James on him, proved useful. NN looked for him in the post with good results as he carved out space and finished with seven points at the half, which would be only the beginning for the big guy.

He also had a couple of perhaps unusually rangy defensive plays, swatting a few shots, and he committed a good foul to prevent a dunk that led to a couple of missed Shawn James free throws while generally being sure that the ballhander wouldn’t be the one to score on drives. Khvostov also found him on a nice pick-and-roll that shows us why Linas Kleiza doesn’t get more minutes despite his shooting.

Kinsey managed seven points at the half in his usual eclectic sort of mix of offense: a rebound and putback here, isolation to draw a foul, attacking off the catch, he also hit a three.

But at half, as I said, it was Milan leading by four as both teams struggled to score. Parakhouski and Kinsey didn’t get much help (although plenty would come in the second half) and Brooks’s 11 and seven offensive rebounds (in big part thanks to Shawn James who otherwise wasn’t much of a contributor) would be enough to help against 2-of-12 three point shooting and 5-of-11 free throw shooting for Milan. This takes us into what would be the defining quarter of the game, a third quarter that would see Nizhny outscore Milan 28-9.

Third quarter turnaround

The third quarter would see a combination of over-aggressive Milan defense, heightened shotmaking from Nizhny (mostly open, to be clear), and continued Milan struggles from three point range in the face of sunk-in NN defense. Rochestie had more than his share of plays in the quarter: he found Thompkins four times, ending up with a total of seven assists and nine points in the quarter. Another factor from Rochestie which I think is often underrated – he frequently got the ball moving up the court quickly. This is something that didn’t happen quite so often without him, as you’d expect.

Rochestie also managed a couple of plays from basically nothing — step back jumpers, a wild drive where he managed to just slip the ball to Thompkins, and so on.

But it wasn’t just Rochestie breaking down the defense – Nizhny used some misdirection and one-on-one type scoring as well. I don’t love Tarence Kinsey playmaking outside of straight-line attack, but I have to admit that he managed to get the defense off-balance on a couple of pick-and-roll opportunities. And even if this was a Rochestie assist, part of it was the simple high flex (there’s probably better terminology for this) and taking advantage of bad defense in terms of the late help on the slip by being aware, making the cut, and having a ballhandler willing and able to make the pass.

And here’s a similar one without the cross-cut action leading to the slip. Rochestie’s mere presence and the risk of penetration or three point shot have a totally out-of-position double-team thing going.

Melli coming out high in a really strange attempt to double in the middle of the floor with Rochestie not yet in position to attack, and Samuels is up high on Parakhouski, who of course you can sink off of. Nice slip and finish by Thompkins to cap it off. Nizhny would end up shooting 73% in the third quarter, and it could have been even better in terms of offensive damage done – Thompkins had a few of these from Rochestie (not always on the pick-and-roll, a couple came in transition/semi-transition opportunities), but he had a foot on the line, unlike in this one.

Offensively for EA7, I’ve mentioned Brooks and the three-point struggles, but Hackett missed all eight of his shots in the game. In the third, Samardo Samuels took multiple threes even though he’s shooting 27.5% from there on the season (Euroleague and Lega Basket combined). EA7 went through the motions of some plays, but they all led into a fairly simple pick-and-roll situation (with the defense perfectly set as Milan’s misdirection never really much misdirected anyone) and positive plays obviously weren’t often made – credit to some solid defensive minutes on the perimeter for Baburin and Khvostov, although both still gave up their share of penetration, just with little damage done.

Take this play as an example (although of course it wasn’t always quite as bad as this) as to how the pick-and-roll forays seemed to go. Or sub in a swing to a shooter for a missed three, closed-out or not (and plenty of those misses were hotly contested, so don’t make it sound like I’m just playing the Lucky Nizhny Defense card. Although I do think they had a bit  of luck –hard to force any Euroleague team into sub-10% three-point shooting without it, obviously).

Alright, this thing has gone on long enough. The fourth quarter wasn’t nearly as ugly for Milan, but it was won 20-15 by Nizhny with quite similar play occurring up until garbage time, essentially. I’ll linger no-longer.

Next for these two teams: Nizhny will play Fenerbahçe, a team quite unlikely to struggle so much offensively, but one that has so far been even less likely than Milan to give defensive resistance.

For Milan it’s Olympiacos – we’ll see if they contain Spanoulis any better than they did Rochestie, and/or manage to space the floor against a very solid Olympiacos defense.