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Switching Screens: Batiste’s Tears and Fenerbahçe’s Fears

By: Rob Scott / @robscott33

Last year’s Regular Season concluded with a supposed Final Four contender dramatically slipping over the edge and out of the competition. It could be happening all over again in Group A as Fenerbahce inch closer towards the cliff’s edge, with Mapooro Cantu sneaking up from behind ready to apply the fatal shove.

Meanwhile, with barely anyone noticing, a supposedly fallen Green giant is one win away from topping the group as their owner storms off in a fit of rage. It seems like a good time to re-evaluate our understanding of this “Group of Death”—it may end up being just that, but the identity of the victim might be a shock to us all.

Win Or Die

Thursday’s game at Ülker Arena is win or go home. The Canaries went into Athens in Week 9 knowing one win out of their final two games would be enough to qualify. They were blown out 69-55 by a Panathinaikos side that is emerging from another bout of chaos at the top and the loss of most of their marquee players to look like a contender—remind anyone of another Athens-area team that did quite well last year?

But let’s back up a second —Fenerbahce knew they had to win one of two games to qualify for the Top 16? This is a team that was supposed to be coasting by now, like Cantu’s opponents Real Madrid, into the next phase only concerned about keeping momentum.

Batiste’s Emotional Return

Fenerbahce’s struggles have been so obvious and well documented it barely seems going into detail again. Bo hasn’t been Bo, Bogdanovic doesn’t do anything other than try to score, consistency from Emir Preldzic is like a cure for the common cold—it seems so plausible that it should exist, and yet finding it has proved beyond the capability of our finest brains.

It was tempting to see the Greens’ extended halftime video tribute to Mike Batiste, returning for the first time as an opponent, as an attempt to disrupt the threat he would pose, but, as per usual this season they needn’t have bothered.

It was a touching, powerful reminder of the legendary status he attained in nine years at OAKA, and beyond the big man’s tears as he took to the mic, what stood out was the action shots on the scoreboard montage from Batiste in his prime: rising imperiously above the rim—usually over an Olympiacos defender—not skulking round the elbow throwing up bad jump shots.

Whatever the plan Pianigiani had for Batiste was, it hasn’t worked, and at the moment it seems that even qualification for the Top 16 will merely be putting off the inevitable.

Cantu Déjà Vu?

All of the drama that should unfold next week on the Asian side of Istanbul has been made possible by Cantu’s never-say-die belligerence in taking down a Real Madrid side 76-70 that, missing Rudy Fernandez, looked like it may have been going through the motions.

A 13-1 opening run for Cantu in a game they won by six proved to be the difference, as Madrid did not look nearly as spritely on the offensive end without their leading scorer and MVP candidate. Analysis by in-the-game.org shows that Madrid’s small forward position, dominated by Rudy, is among the league leaders in shots created (unassisted field goals excluding put-backs + assists) and without him, they didn’t look nearly as dynamic.

Manuchar Markoishvili blocking a Jaycee Carroll corner three in the first quarter like it was a potential game winner set the tone for a Cantu side that grabbed 15 offensive rebounds while Madrid secured only 23 defensive.

Marty Leunen’s long three that put Cantu up six points with 90 seconds came on the third attempt of an epic possession. This week basketball stats savant Kirk Goldsberry introduced the concept of the ‘Kobe Assist’—a missed shot that still has value as an opportunity for a putback or extended possession—and there was another play at the beginning of the fourth quarter that showed how much Cantu can use this to their advantage.

Markoishvili posted up and missed the short jumper, Tabu missed a three and Alex Tyus was fouled as he made the putback. Another possession with three shot attempts. Give this team enough of those and it is bound to punish you.

Markoishvili only shot 3-of-12 inside the arc, but his 3-of-5 from behind it to go with a perfect 8-of-8 from the line led Cantu to a victory they needed a lot more than Madrid. Jonathan Tabu has had to pick up the reins left by Jerry Smith’s injury and he gave his team 34 minutes of hassling defense and a shooting line similar to Manuchar—1-of-7 from two-point range but 3-of-5 from deep.

Once again, Trinchieri’s team has done this through its tenacity and attention to detail, overcoming injury and a theoretical talent deficit to punch above their weight and spoil the script. They don’t blow teams away – Fenerbahce at home excluded – but nag their opponents into a creeping realisation that as the screw tightens and the game winds to a close, that it’s still close and they absolutely will not give up.

They actually have a below league average offensive (101.9, 13th) and defensive efficiency (105.2, 15th) but when they’re playing well, incremental factors add up to a dreadfully stubborn whole.

Only Jaycee Carroll could create his own shot for Madrid, something at which Fernandez excels, and Madrid’s only period of sustained offensive success came in their 19-7 run to take the lead in the second quarter after it took them over 5 minutes of the game to register a field goal. Without Rudy’s ability to finish lobs, attack the paint and pass out of a rotating defense, it was left to Felipe Reyes to go hard inside as the only counterpart to Carroll’s dribble penetration and three point shooting. Cusin bullied Begic out of post position and Madrid’s lack of alternative options down low could be one of their only weaknesses going forward one those occasions when their attack from the wings isn’t working. Still, Rudy played on Sunday against Estudiantes and his absence seems precautionary.

Nothing about Cantu’s advanced – or regular – statistics screams ‘Top 16’ but they seem to be able to coalesce the upside of their abilities into individual games, and  here they are again, even without their two best guards in Aradori and Smith, ready to shock Europe again.

Greens Gathering Pace

At the top of the group, if the Greens beat BC Khimki in Moscow (Region) they will slip into the Top 16 with as quiet a contender as their crosstown rivals were this time last season.

While the Reds overcame the loss of star names by hanging onto the most important one and surrounding him with young Greek talent, PAO has gone the other way, keeping Diamantidis but surrounding him with a strange collection of veteran off-cuts and NBA refugees. If they keep going like this, with Lasme and Sofo patrolling the paint and Diamantidis channeling Pistol Pete, Marcus Banks might be flexing his muscles all the way to London.

That’s something nobody, least of all himself, could have predicted.

Rob Scott writes ‘Switching Screens’  for ELA. He also writes for Euro-step.net and The Basketball Post. Follow him on Twitter @robscott33.

9 thoughts on “Switching Screens: Batiste’s Tears and Fenerbahçe’s Fears”

  1. I’d say there’s less to write about in the last week of regular season :). But you must do another prediction round, once it’s clear which teams are in that group. It’s always fun. Remember then I said Milano will be out and Caja will take 4th back in the 3rd week? 🙂

    But again, I can’t help myself not talking about the Raptors. They have 2 Liths after all. Haven’t seen NBA game in years and I was shocked at how boring it was. Žalgiris-Minsk in VTB had more alley-ups and fast breaks than this nonsense. They have ZERO teamplay. All the players are standing STILL except for a few that’s making a play. And that play is that? Slashing and shooting or passing back at 3pts. After 10 min I got bored. This is street bbal, and I want to play, not watch.

    While it’s understandable to have little time for training, there is no excuse for the coach. What’s up with Kleiza? He’s on the roll (5/6 3pts), but no, he was replaced with Ross (1/6), and when Lawry, who just didn’t have form today.

    And JV. 18 min and only 4 shots attempted? Answer – team does not pass him ball. And all team does not share ball, not only selfish bastards like Bargnani and DeRozan.

    Last couple of thoughts. Why can’t they box out opponents for def. rebounds? And why judges have numbers on their shirts? Are they now officially part of the game?

    1. As always, Vaidas, we love your enthusiasm.

      And I’m really, really sorry you had to watch the Raptors try and play basketball. Unfortunately, as sensational as Kyle Lowry is playing this season when healthy, he seems to have developed very little chemistry with Big V.

      It sucks, because there are few (any?) big men his age that understand pick and roll as well as he does, yet there’s no Sarunas Jasikevicius to set him up with the pass. When you add him to the rest of their cast—Bargs, DeRozan, Keliza—one would think they could find some sort of offensive rhythm, especially with al l of the space that Andrea creates by refusing to step foot inside the arc.

      Bottom line is that Bargnani has been pretty awful this season; at his best, he’s a streaky scorer, at his worst, completely unreliable.

      And while I love Kleiza, he’s as selfish as they come offensively, too. Is that a bad thing? Not always, no. But when you’re playing the 3 w/Bargs at the 4 and Demar at the 2…not much passing going on.

      Obviously, Valanciunas will play better with Calderon on the floor, but Dwayne Casey is a defensive coach and while Jose is a decent FIBA defender because of his smarts, he is lost in one-on-one situations and therefore of little value defensively in the NBA.

      Valanciunas himself has had some trouble defending weak side (or so I read, at least), and that’s why Casey is bringing him along slowly. It sounds strange saying this but…Amir Johnson might be able to be a sort of mentor to Jonas. He came in the league at a young age (far too young…should have gone to Louisville and learned under Pitino) and is a freak of an athlete like Big V.

      I still think Jonas is an All-Star by year three.

      As for Euroleague, predictions for this week’s games? What did you think about Rytas’ “collapse” at the end of the Bamberg game? I know beating a better team is rarely considered a failure, but the management at the end of the game was absolutely atrocious.

      And if we want to talk about boxing out, how can Rytas let Zirbes get that board at the end? And you expect smarter play out of Seibutis late, too. That foul was unacceptable. Let Sharrod shoot the 35-footer if that’s what he wants to do.

      Of course, a Top 16 preview with picks is coming after Week 10 wraps up.

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