By Rob Scott / @robscott33
The pre-game narrative was obvious: Željko Obradović returning to the place where he reigned for thirteen years. By the final buzzer, he must have been tempted to throw away his return ticket to Istanbul and come back for good. Another great Panathinaikos win, 76-67 over Zoc’s Fenerbahçe, but the maestro has to wait a week before he adds another to his personal total. He might need to add another three in a row if the Canaries are to stay alive.
The diagnosis is simple: Fenerbahçe couldn’t defend the three point line. Michael Bramos dropped 7-of-8 from behind the arc and PAO made 12 threes to go with the same number inside the line. The defensive breakdowns that led to Bramos’ seven long-bombs were diverse and numerous. It’s time for a detailed photo-collage to see exactly what went wrong. If you’re a Fenerbahçe fan, it might be time to make like Luka Žorić and look away now.
Bramos’ first three: mental lapse
Fener have had problems with over-helping earlier in the season, but at least that relies on the opposition doing something clever with the ball. Here you can see a mental error leading to an open three in the first quarter, a sign of things to come.
Just a simple halfcourt offense for PAO and both Preldžić (#55) and Sekulić (#18) move over to guard Lasme (#11) in the post. Bramos, a 41.5% three-point shooter this season, is left all alone in the corner.
Bramos’ second three: Bojan turns his back
This one would have been even more infuriating for Obradović. Bramos is guarded by Bojan Bogdanović in the right corner. As the PAO #6 begins a gentle baseline cut, Bojan tracks him across the paint but turns his back to his man, for reasons he probably couldn’t explain himself. If there was supposed to be a switch, none came.
Ever alert, Roko Ukić spots Bramos in the corner and fires him a neat pass. By the time Bogdanović realises, Bramos has his feet set, the ball perfectly delivered and another open three goes down.
Bramos’ third three: Žorić points out the problem
This one can be explained in one frame. Luka Žorić and Linas Kleiza both go under a screen. Žorić points at Bramos, but nobody is close enough to step up. Swish.
Bramos’ fourth three: The retreat to the post
This one combined elements of earlier mistakes, as Žorić was involved again, this time pulling a Bojan and turning his back at the worst time. Out of a BLOB situation, Bramos received the inbounds and Fener appeared to be in some kind of zone, with Žorić picking up Bramos on the left wing. Bramos faces him up but decides against the drive, swinging the ball to Fotsis at the top of the arc. For some reason Žorić sees his work is done, and abandons Bramos to double Batiste on the low block.
It’s not difficult to guess what happens next. Fotsis fires the ball back to an open Bramos, who drains another three, the closeout coming far too late. What is difficult is knowing what Žorić was thinking. Mike Batiste stopped being worth double-teaming three years ago in any situation, let alone when the guy you help off is a dynamite shooter who’s been burning your team all night.
Bramos’ fifth three: The Sequel
This one actually started out well, but fell apart in a very familiar way. Diamantidis and Lasme run a high screen and roll, and Žorić and Bogdanović execute a good switch, the Croatian big man corralling 3D in the corner as his countryman stays on the strong side to switch onto Bramos, while Preldžić takes the roll man, Lasme.
This is a pretty clever set, with Lasme rolling wide to the other side of the lane, rather than straight down the paint as Bramos cuts across the free throw line. If Bogdanović tries to contain Lasme in a straight-up switch, he likely has a great chance at a close-range shot, and the closer defender is Preldžić, who has an even bigger size and girth disadvantage. Fener doesn’t want Emir trying to defend Lasme, but what they do next allows PAO a much better look than that, one they didn’t turn down.
There would have been several better options here: Žorić could have used his height to try and block the passing lane to Lasme, or Bogdanović could have tried to trap Diamantidis. Instead, Žorić again abandons his assignment and runs back to the post, but if Preldžić is supposed to switch, he didn’t get the message.
This leaves Bogdanović guarding two guys, and as Bramos and 3D exchange passes, Preldžić hasn’t a hope in hell of making it out to the perimeter in time to stop Bramos sinking his fifth triple. That put PAO up 61-49 early in the final period.
Fener fightback, Bramos drains numbers six and seven: Game over
Amongst all of these mishaps, the game was not over by a long way. An 11-2 run by the visitors brought the score back to 68-62, but sometimes luck isn’t on your side. A loose ball at the home end led to a run out and Bramos streaking down the left wing. Four Fenerbahće defenders fell back into the paint, with Jackson on the other side of the floor. Zack Wright found the man with the hot hand, he stepped into the completely open shot and it was back to a nine point PAO lead.
Bramos’ seventh was well contested, he just stuck one in Bojan’s face. Sometimes those go in, and Zoc’s men picked the wrong game to offer the Greek-American bomber so many earlier open looks.
Zoc’s reaction, and food for thought
It seems like whatever Obradović does, this Fenerbahće team doesn’t have enough instinctive or disciplined defenders to play the kind of scheme he wants. Žorić hurrying back to the post not once, but twice suggests some kind of instruction, but if those switches were pre-ordained, they were badly timed and only half-executed.
Fener are still alive, as are four teams fighting for two spots out of Group E. But with Olympiacos looking like they are back at full strength and Panathinaikos now one game ahead, looking like they don’t miss Pedoulakis at all, time is running out. The money men, not to mention loyal fans on the Asian side of Istanbul, must be wondering whether they will ever be able to construct a team that reach the elite level of Euroleague basketball. Hiring the best coach possible is one thing, but he must be given time to build a roster that he can trust absolutely to carry out his instructions. It doesn’t seem like that is the case this season.