Playing on the road for your second game in 48 hours is never easy, but Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens and Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz rose to the challenge to start Round 8 with respective road wins. Then came Real Madrid, which returned home to rebound from a 30-point drubbing to win by 32! The EuroLeague gurus focus on the players, the defense and the shots that tell the story of those Thursday night victories.
All-around display – plus Doncic magic – gets Madrid back on track
There was a moment early in the second quarter of Real Madrid’s 89-57 battering of Unicaja Malaga which neatly summed up the many differences between the two Spanish teams on the night. Patient passes from Luka Doncic, Jaycee Carroll and Felipe Reyes allowed Rudy Fernandez to send up a two-point shot which hit the rim, but Trey Thompkins battled hard to win a strong offensive rebound, recycled the ball and then received a whipped pass from Doncic to sink a three-pointer from the corner. That play had everything good about Madrid’s performance on the night: crisp teamwork to set up the initial shot, hard work from Thompkins to win the rebound, a precise pass from Doncic to create a good look, and a clean three-point strike at the end of a passage of play which had seen every home team player touch the ball.
With its winning blend of collective play, creativity, determined hustle and end product, this was an impressive performance from Coach Pablo Laso’s team. And it was extremely timely, too, coming after a worrying three-game losing streak in the midst of a serious injury crisis which has sidelined three big men and last season’s EuroLeague MVP. The only way to respond in such a situation is as a team, and Madrid certainly did that to play with purpose, tempo and an impressive level of confidence considering its recent problems.
Of course, it helps when you can call upon the services of the hottest young player on the planet, and Doncic again showed there’s nothing he can’t do by producing an outstanding all-around display. With three big men missing, the ability of an 18 year-old to come in and grab 10 rebounds was just what Madrid needed, and he could well have finished with a triple-double if he hadn’t been rested by Laso for the whole of the final quarter. Perhaps most impressively, though, Doncic didn’t try to do too much all by himself, instead making good decisions throughout the game and thereby contributing significantly, but selflessly, to the team ethic which played the biggest role in the emphatic outcome.
Three-pointers explain Baskonia’s turnaround
Both Zalgiris Kaunas and Baskonia arrived to Zalgirio Arena with good momentum. Zalgiris came off a big overtime road win against Unicaja Malaga and Baskonia had handed Real Madrid its worst loss in Turkish Airlines EuroLeague history, 105-75. Baskonia got off to a strong start and led 11-21 late in the first quarter. Zalgiris got within 23-24 early in the second quarter and only then, Baskonia started to hit three-pointers, one after another. Rodrigue Beaubois opened fire with his second and third bomb from downtown, then another one by Jayson Granger started a 1-20 run in which Baskonia would hit 4 more shots from beyond the arc – by Matt Janning, Granger, Toko Shengelia and Janis Timma. All of a sudden, Baskonia led 30-52, and the visitors boosted their margin to 36-62 when Johannes Voigtmann and Rinalds Malmanis also struck from downtown. Baskonia had hit 12-of-17 three-point shots until that moment and 10-of-13 since the start of the second quarter. Always proud and getting great support from its crowd, Zalgiris rallied to get within 64-71 with over eight minutes left. Baskonia went back to its main weapon in this game to seal the outcome: Beaubois hit three more, Janning added another from downtown and Granger buried the visitors’ 17th triple with a minute left. When the dust settled, Baskonia had broken the club record for most three-point shots in a EuroLeague game with 17. It had previously had 16 against Khimki Moscow Region last week and in a road win against Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv back in December 2009. Baskonia also dished 26 assists, which was just 3 away from its club record, and only committed 10 turnovers.
Baskonia has won three of its last four games – and only lost to Khimki by 1 point – since Pedro Martinez became its head coach. Baskonia hit just 23 of 82 three-point shots in its opening four games (28%), but buried 58 of 118 in the next four (49.2%), which explains its great turnaround since Martinez joined the team. “I think we played a good game, with a great three-point percentage. We had some problems in the second half when Zalgiris pressed fullcourt. We lost our rhythm, made some turnovers and left us without confidence for some moments, but in general, I think a good game on offense and defense and for some minutes, we did great on offense,” Martinez said after the game. “I think that if we keep playing like this – like I said, as a team, offensively and defensively, we can beat anybody,” Shengelia added. If they keep making all those threes, that is surely the case.
The incredible Nick Calathes leads Panathinaikos
Nick Calathes had a career-game, coming a rebound shy of a historic triple-double, and Panathinaikos needed every single statistical input of his to snatch an 81-82 road win over Anadolu Efes Istanbul. There have been only two triple-doubles in the EuroLeague this century, both by Maccabi’s Nikola Vujcic, and the last one came in 2006. Calathes scored a career-high 29 points, had 10 assists and 9 rebounds last night. It’s is the second time he was that close to this historic feat, after posting 13 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists last year in Bamberg. “The triple double does not matter, the win is what it counts,” Calathes said after the game. “Me getting a triple-double or not getting a triple-double, for our team to get a win is a lot more important.”
Calathes was awarded his last rebound in the very last second of the game, when he took control of the game-sealing blocked shot by his teammate James Gist. His potential triple-double looked a lot more likely with 1:30 left in the third quarter, at that time he already had 16 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. However, in the final quarter, as Efes went up 69-62, Panathinaikos needed scoring, and Calathes delivered. He scored 13 points in the final 5:06 of the game. With his team down 71-67, he first made a pair of free throws, then had an easy-looking driving layup. His triple from way downtown put Panathinaikos up 73-75. After the hosts regained the lead, Calathes drove through the Efes defense for another layup, before beating the shot-clock with his third three of the night, 79-82. No Efes player managed to contain Calathes, let alone stop him: “Calathes played an incredible game, I feel that he had control of everything, had good mentality on defense and offense,” coach Xavi Pascual praised his point guard who played 36 minutes on the floor. “This is why I kept him a lot of minutes today. And I am very happy for him, because he is an incredible worker. When a guy like him has a night like this, you must be happy for him.”
Maccabi defense comes through at Khimki
If you peruse the box score from Maccabi’s road win at Khimki Moscow Region, the one number that should jump out is 20. That is the number of turnovers the hosts committed – which is tied for the second-most ever by a Khimki squad in a EuroLeague game – and more than a third of them came from Alexey Shved. Khimki’s star guard is second in the league in scoring and bettered his average with 21 points in addition to 4 assists, but his 7 turnovers put a damper on his performance. Maccabi’s also silenced Khimki playmaker Stefan Markovic, who did not score in 19 minutes and tallied 2 assists with 4 turnovers.
After the game, Maccabi let loose on the game plan to work Shved hard. “He is a great scorer. He can score in multiple ways,” Pierre Jackson said. “Our job tonight was just to throw a lot of defenders at him and make him shoot tough shots.” At times, that backfired as veteran forward Sergey Monia took advantage of Maccabi defenders overplaying Shved on the wing. On three different occasions in which Shved had the ball above the elbow, Shved made backdoor cuts and Monia delivered precise passes for layups of dunks. However that proved to be a small price to play as otherwise Maccabi made Shved and Khimki work so hard to get shots that the turnovers piled up.
”We knew before the game everything about Alexey [Shved],” Maccabi head coach Neven Spahija shared after the game. “He is definitely one of the best, probably the best player in Europe. I think we prepared the game well. Also we executed well. You can plan whatever you want, but if the players on the court are not following the instructions, it doesn’t go well like in the previous game.”
And his comment dives right into the second point. Maccabi had the right game plan and worked Shved and Markovic hard to disrupt the Khimki offense. To that end, five perimeter players spent at least 19 minutes on the court and took part in the defensive effort: starters Pierre Jackson, John DiBartolomeo and Michael Roll and off the bench DeAndre Kane and Norris Cole, the latter of whom collected 6 steals. Maccabi had a fairly average game on the offensive end, but team defense was worth a big win on Thursday.