By Rob Scott / @robscott33
Real Madrid won Game One like a precocious student who goes out drinking before a big exam but still comes out with an A+. They won Game Two in the manner of a bunch of obnoxious bankers abusing a waitress then leaving a $100 tip just to laugh in her face. Game One was wrily amusing, but Game Two was an insult to our collective basketball intelligence. It was also kind of hilarious, if you enjoy that kind of thing.
Thomas Heurtel racked up 15 assists, a Euroleague record, to go with his 11 in Game One, but both nights he’s been silenced at the end of the game. Efes led by 17 during the third quarter, as Madrid went on one of those tetchy, mistake-laden runs that threatened to undo their chances in Game One.
Madrid went up 22-11 near the end of the first quarter as Gustavo Ayon blocked a Krstic layup and Sergio Llull grabbed the loose ball, evaded the halfcourt foul attempt and jammed it home. With the momentum from the end of Game One in the bag, maybe they thought it the job was done, that Efes were a spent force? The version of Madrid that went coast-to-coast in a few seconds is electrifying, but that’s not enough to get it done at this point in the season. Screens must be fought over, switches read and the right passes made. Madrid have coasted on their talent and shotmaking in two games now, playing actual good basketball for maybe 30% of the time.
Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez and Llull dominated the offense, taking poor shots, with nothing going through the big men at all. Even with the terrible shot selection, they dug the hole even deeper at the other end. Outfought on the glass, a step behind every cutter, any Efes guard could get to where they wanted to be, just by using a ball screen and stepping into a jumpshot. Efes could have been up by more than 17 if they had decent shooting from outside. The ball movement was superb but too often it ended up with a brick from outside. Efes shot 9-of-31 from three-point range overall, Perperoglou alone going 2-of-10, Saric 1-of-5.
Maybe Madrid came into these games overly complacent, but it looks like they haven’t showed up mentally ready for the big occasion. Small pieces of good fortune have gone their way which add up to two comeback victories. Sergio Llull banked in a three to close the third quarter, they got a crucial out-of-bounds call late on that looked iffy. Those pieces of luck can’t be relied on to keep happening.
If Game Two had a moral, it was that sometimes you don’t put in the work, you let yourself fall way short of expectations, but then sometimes Felipe Reyes hits a three to seal the game. Life isn’t always fair, but sometimes it catches up on you. Whether Efes can cash in some karma back in Istanbul remains to be seen.
Olympiacos Back in the Mix
The first game in Barcelona was a drab anti-climax, if you were interested in drama over ruthless execution. Olympiacos made by far the biggest adjustment between Games One and Two, to surge right back into the series, winning 76-63 . Barcelona dominated every matchup in Game One, but Vassilis Spanoulis is finally untamed from injury and Giorgios Printezis absolutely killed Macej Lampe. Now the emphasis is on Barça to win at least once in Piraeus. That’s an incredibly tough task, particularly if they go into Game Four under threat of elimination.
Printezis was impeccable, moving freely in the post, too slippery and strong for Lampe to handle. That patented push shot from the side of the paint means he doesn’t have to establish good position to score. Coupled with a fluid conventional post game and a pair of threes, Barcelona couldn’t handle him - but that depended also on Spanoulis being able to penetrate and use high screens, something Tomas Satoransky basically took off the table in Game One.
Satoransky played the first game like a supercharged Victor Sada, destroying the opposing pick and roll game and closing out hard to the corners. Crucially though he also hit threes and didn’t bring down his own team’s halfcourt offense like Sada often could. Barca’s offense ground to a halt in Game Two, with only some vintage Navarro saving them from a bigger beating.
The problem with Barcelona on Friday night was creativity. There were too many possessions with one pass into a post-move, drive or jumpshot. A team with all the passing talent of Marcelinho Huertas, Ante Tomic, Navarro and the rest managed one assist in the first 15 minutes, for only 15 points. They finished with seven dimes in total, and three of those came from Tomic. It wasn’t like there were many great assists that were wiped out by missed shots either.
Huertas played only 15 minutes, and the absence of Brad Oleson came into sharp focus. His presence in the rest of the series will be pivotal. If Pascual still hasn’t got over the hump of trusting Huertas with defensive assignments then Satoransky needs to step up and be more than just a defensive stopper. It’s still only 1-1, but I wouldn’t like to be in Xavi Pascual’s position heading to Piraeus. The series, and these playoffs, just got a lot more interesting.
The second game showed the perils of overreacting to any single game. Fenerbahçe fretted over their perimeter defense without Hickman, then smoked Maccabi to go up 2-0. Sure, Madrid showed some mental and tactical flaws - but the same Madrid team beat Barcelona just over a week ago in the ACB - the same team that looked unstoppable and then vulnerable in the space of three days. Keep on watching, and more layers in our perception will peel away, revealing new and unexpected visions.
But CSKA is still beating Panathinaikos. That one’s over.