Last night’s insights: Round 4: Thursday

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There is always a question on the back end of the two-games-in-48-hours in packed EuroLeague weeks as to how will players hold up. Well we certainly saw some young guns at their best with Luka Doncic and Nikola Milutinov leading their respective undefeated squads, Real Madrid and Olympiacos Piraeus, to victory. But veteran Taylor Rochestie played a leading role as Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade came from behind to win as home, as did Jordan Theodore in a similar situation for AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. Want more insights on Thursday’s games? The EuroLeague Gurus have you covered.

Crvena Zvezda. Where everybody knows their role

When building a team and team chemistry, among the many things that coaches look for is for every player to understand his role. That is the case for Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, for which 10 players contributed in their come-from-behind victory over Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. Some roles are easy to spot and define. Taylor Rochestie is the ball handler and go-to scorer; he delivered with 22 points and 5 assists. Milko Bjelica is the savvy big man with a sweet outside shot; he produced 16 points on 4-of-4 shooting from behind the arc. Center Mathias Lessort is the physical presence in the paint; he neutralized Maccabi’s starting center, Art Parakhouski, who came into the game leading the lead in blocks and finished with just 4 points and no blocks in 12 minutes. And then there are the starting wings, James Feldeine and Branko Lazic, who made sure that Maccabi’s prime scorers, Pierre Jackson and Norris Cole, had limited impacts for much of the night. On top of that, Feldeine produced the best offensive game of his EuroLeague career with 19 points, 8 assists and 4 steals, which were all career bests. And then there’s the bench… Nikola Jovanovic’s physical presence inside made things tough on the Maccabi centers. He also soared for the rebound on Maccabi’s last possession to in essence wrap up the victory. Pero Antic buried a pair of three-pointers and helped set the defensive tone with a tough foul on Maccabi power forward Jonah Bolden, who had 10 first-quarter points and none in the second half. And then there was Stefan Lazarevic, who spent less than six minutes on the court, but his defense on Michael Roll inbounding the ball on Maccabi’s final possession forced the visitors to inbound the ball three times and allowed his team to prepare its defense accordingly.

Zvezda is a young and hungry team, but kudos to Coach Dusan Alimpijevic for harnessing the skills of his players and making sure they all know their roles and are ready, able and willing to contribute everything they have from the opening minute till the final buzzer. And don’t forget, Zvezda won last night with injured forwards Marko Keselj and Nemanja Dangubic. So this team can only get better!

Madrid’s domination comes from different sources

Real Madrid is the most dominant team in the early stage of the new EuroLeague season. If for some unknown reason previous wins of 14 points on the road against Anadolu Efes Istanbul, by 13 at home against CSKA Moscow, and scoring 100 points against Milan on Tuesday left any doubts, the way Madrid handled Zalgiris in Kaunas on Thursday really stands out. Yes, Luka Doncic shined again, scoring 24 of his career-high 28 points in the second half, and had a run of 9 consecutive points midway through the third quarter when he singlehandedly extended Madrid’s lead from 9 to 16 points. However, even though the 18-year old was unstoppable in the second half, Madrid had a 31-40 lead at halftime despite Doncic not being that big of a factor in the first two quarters.

“I think tonight Doncic had a great game because he was hot shooting,” Coach Pablo Laso explained after the game. “But Campazzo played a great game for us, he controlled the rhythm. Felipe and Ayon were awesome underneath the basket, Maciulis, Radoncic, Taylor on defense. It’s more of a team thing, although Luka rises a little bit above the rest.”

In those first two quarters it was Gustavo Ayon and Rudy Fernandez making plays, while Facundo Campazzo hit long distance shots. Already in the first half Madrid had a 6 to 13 advantage in assists, and finished the game with 23 assists to only 13 by Zalgiris. The ball movement allowed the offense to repeatedly score with ease and find open players who nailed the open jumpers and three-pointers, a total of 15 shots behind the arc to be precise. Four different players had at least 3 dishes, with Campazzo leading the way with 6, and Ayon right behind with 5 passes his teammates turned into baskets. Doncic had 4 and Rudy Fernandez 3 assists. Madrid wins, and wins big, but evidence is there that it is a lot more to its 14.5-point margin of victory than just Doncic’s fantastic numbers.

Rebounds and sharing the ball keeps Olympiacos undefeated

Khimki Moscow Region arrived undefeated to Peace and Friendship Stadium after three big home wins, but Olympiacos Piraeus was ready to show the Russian powerhouse that life on the road is not easy for anyone in the EuroLeague. Not only did Olympiacos live up to the expectations with its trademark defense, but the Reds were able to run the floor and share the balls like few times before. Indeed, Olympiacos limited Khimki to very low shooting percentages – a season-low 44.4% from two-point range and 28.6% from downtown. Khimki averaged 24.5 assists in the last two games, but only dished 12 against Olympiacos. On the other hand, 10 Olympiacos players had at least 1 assist in this game – all but center Nikola Milutinov and, surprisingly, playmaker Vangelis Mantzaris. Sharing the ball (17 assists) and controlling the defensive boards (a season high 30 defensive rebounds for Olympiacos and the fourth-best mark this season) allowed the Reds to dominate the game, especially in the third quarter, in which Georgios Printezis and Nikola Milutinov combined for 14 points to break it open. Milutinov hit all 8 of his two-point shots to finish the game with 17 points, while Printezis added 15, but 11 Olympiacos players scored in this game. Olympiacos made 27 of 42 two-point shots, with the fourth-best percentage of the season (62.8%).

“In the third period, we showed all of our quality, defensively and offensively. We played great defense, they scored only 15 points and we had the chance to run in the open court and score fast break and transition points,” Olympiacos head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos said after the game. “That gave us a bigger lead. After that, we controlled the tempo of the game in the fourth period and continued to be focused on both ends of the court,” he added.

“We allowed, in the beginning of the game, 32 points in the first half from low post offense and transition through our turnovers,” Khimki head coach Georgios Bartzokas, who won the EuroLeague title with Olympiacos in 2013, added. “We tried to prepare our players for the different style of basketball that Olympiacos plays, especially in its home court but obviously, our approach was completely wrong.”

Milan’s Theodore joins the elite

AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan’s meeting with FC Barcelona Lassa on Thursday night was one of those games that kept you guessing. As the final minutes approached, nobody could have said with any confidence which team was going to win, or who would take the starring role. Apart from a bizarre second quarter which saw Barcelona race into a 15-point lead, but Milan immediately fight back to level before the break, the game had been closely contested all the way. Several players had briefly shined, notably Barcelona veteran and EuroLeague scoring king Juan Carlos Navarro with 11 points in less than four minutes during that second quarter charge, but as the final minutes arrived the game was very much in the balance and something – or someone – had to give.

In the end, that something proved to be Milan point guard Jordan Theodore, who delivered a masterful fourth quarter to round off an excellent all-round display and emphatically announce his arrival in Europe’s elite competition. It’s taken a while for Theodore to get there. At the age of 28, he is certainly not a fresh-faced novice, and his journey to the top level encompassed six different clubs in the last five years. The most recent of those was Banvit, where he finished last season as the Turkish League’s leading assister. His performances over the last two or three seasons more than warranted an opportunity to shine on the EuroLeague stage, and with Milan’s main scoring threat Andrew Goudelock watching from the stands through injury against Barcelona, he seized that opportunity with both hands. Theodore was particularly impressive in crunch time, scoring 9 points in two minutes midway through the final period to establish a lead that Milan would not relinquish, and his overall stats of 19 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals reveal everything about his effectiveness all over the court. As a late arrival into the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, Theodore is making up for lost time – and he’s doing it in a hurry.

[“Source-euroleague”]