By Jim Conway on 24 April 2017
The coaching monsters throw their shadow over predictions and hot home courts in the Euroleague Playoffs. Road win for Blatt in Madrid, second victory in OAKA for Obradovic’s Fener. Olympiakos didn’t make it against Anadolu who were determined to tie the series, making a road win in Istanbul the only way forward. Hoopfellas on the end of the first hot week of matches and the prospect of the next one..
.. because we may have great athletes in Europe, but at this level, basketball is still the coach’s sport. So hats off to our own Super stars..
Blatt, the gladiator..
Ok, you know that we were expecting it here and that from now on (for this page) no accomplishment of this true mastermind of the benches, named David Blatt, will ever qualify as a surprise. Before the Playoffs I had even highlighted that he brings out his best self when he’s in an “outsider” position. Therefore, after the first week of Playoffs, the man to be getting the “most exciting hero” title for the first two games in my own ceremony wouldn’t be my all-time favorite soloist Bogdan Bogdanovic but Princeton’s genius, this deeply spiritual sportsman.
Many times during this week I have exclaimed my admiration for the computerized basketball of the Serbian wing and the perfect accuracy of execution on a defense which (unfortunately) we witnessed a lot; On Friday night, however, I understood that for the way I personally view the sport (and so expressing a clearly personal opinion) nothing is more thrilling than the speed with which Blatt plays the match in his mind, alternates his thoughts and adapts to what’s happening, being constantly ahead, preparing with precision the next offense, the next defense.. Watching a complex defense, strictly structured for a particular situation in Real’s offense, with specific, short-terms goals, to be lining up by switching from zone to man to man defense in the last seconds is something that encloses all the charm of this (not simple in the least but) complex sport. Οld School coaching translated in the basis of contemporary basketball. A Chesterfield sofa and a Francis Scott Fitzgerald book inside a spaceship..
Blatt pulled out from the edge of the bench a dusty Luke Harangody (leaving aside Moerman, just 13′ in total in two matches) who brings in mind the player Doc Rivers used to have in the starting unit in training, next to the Big-3 to avoid getting one of them injured. The Notre Dame graduate has 9.5 points with 100% in three pointers (5/5) in the first two matches, but his altruism and “play to the max” character has inspired his teammates. Darussafaka has built its entire tactics within the Small ball context (Clyburn/Anderson often at “4”, important in rotation even though Slaughter is not ready, Two-guard units); they also use 1-3-1 (sometimes offensively with traping and sometimes not) as their combat vehicle on defense while synchronizing the trap they are setting against Llull’s man to man in the main lane (after the first dribble, precisely at the time of the decision in order to have help in the first step and a hand in the face if his goes up for a three pointer without fearing penetration). Against Blatt’s 1-3-1 (Clyburn at the “head” against Llull, Wanamaker –the player combining running and IQ better than anyone else- as the last player in the baseline for the sprints along the base line) Madrid hasn’t reacted properly. They haven’t found Short Threes from the corners with Carroll, they are unable to combine passing the ball from side to side and Skip passes to force the zone into constant shifting, they don’t use back screens to hit on the back of the defense. At the same time, Blatt is laughing, exchanging High Fives with his assistants in the bench.. Darussafaka withstood the offense from the Madrilenos’ heavy artillery when Llull scored 5 three pointers during the third period and remained standing with Wilbekin scoring a huge basket at the end, which is telling of how much he has matured and improved this year.
It goes without saying that the Madrilenos are still the front runners of the competition, but they are now aware that things have changed. Objectively speaking, it is difficult for Darussafaka to beat Madrid three times in a row, but the next match is the key. Coach Laso’s team shot 8/15 three pointers on Wednesday but only 9/30 on Friday, which (together with the rebounds) determined the context within the four lines. The third game is a great test for Madrid (they have proved that they can win such matches away from home and this is the reason they are still the front runners) against an opponent with more limited quality depth but very well prepared for war on a tactical and psychological level..
We are witnessing history in the making since this series is likely to become a reference point in Bogdan Bogdanovic’s career. These matches and his performance is the reason that kept him in Europe this year. To win, to amaze, to make history properly before the long journey to the other side of the Atlantic. The things that the Serbian guard does in the series against Panathinaikos seem inconceivable (in terms of effectiveness) for Euroleague Basketball with extremely few performers having achieved something like that historically during the Playoffs phase. In the first two games before the OAKA burning-hot crowd, Bogdanovic has 24.0 points with 9/13 two point shots, 10/14 three pointers, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steal, 2.0 blocks, 35.0 Ranking in 33.5 minutes without once going to the free throw line and only 1.5 turnover from the player who is the main playmaker of the Turks and has both the ball and the responsibility of the decision in his hands more than any other of his teammates..
The wrong approach of the Bogdanovic case
Panathinaikos fought hard in the second match. It’s obvious that they wanted it and still want it a lot. Pascual’s team made a great effort and had great zest but a fundamentally wrong plan on dealing with Bogdan Bogdanovic. Wrong approach and perspective also fuelled by other factors (the rotation of the frontcourt) in order to reach tonight’s result.
Panathinaikos’s complete inability to keep Bogdanovic away from the middle lane truly qualifies for scientific research. To prevent him from entering and playing on the middle lane. 88% of the points produced by the Serbian for Fener’s offense (execution+creation) came from his activity on the main lane. He has in essence (along with Udoh) grabbed the heart of the Greens’ defense and uprooted it.. It is of vital importance for Panathinaikos to keep Bogdanovic on the left lane. They have anything but achieved that.. I’m particularly impressed by the fact that Calathes (one of the best defensive players to deny entry to the middle lane) started against him with different instructions and when Pascual tried to keep him on the left with James, he was betrayed by the lack of communication between the American and the big man who defended on the screener. As long as the Serbian has access (and an easy one) to the middle lane, Panathinaikos’ defense concede easy points. We didn’t see any ICE (the screener Vesely is no.. Radolph in long-two execution)… Against Bogdanovic you defend with your feet, not your hands. His every dribble is a step towards manipulating his individual defender and the defense as a whole. After 80 minutes in the battlefield, Panathinaikos’ defense has not forced him (with very few exceptions) to make back steps and not dribble forward during the final stage of the possession, assisting him to be in attack mode. Coach, no more middle lane to Bogdanovic. No more.. Even if this (after a certain point) was your command to the players, their “poor execution” is still chalked up to the bench. It’s a pity for such a skilful coach on defence to generously hand out favourable conditions to the opponent.
Panathinaikos’ team defense has zest and energy and also a typical failure to execute automatic rotations which is punishable by an offense with Fener’s coherence and automatisms, causing Pascual’s players to be worn out after every defense and mulling over the question “why all this effort doesn’t give Defensive Stops”.. Certain Panathinaikos players are late for different reasons throughout the season. But now this weakness is more “targeted”. Good individual defensive players with the ball in their hands or in the space of a pass, great athletes but with superficial knowledge of the fundamentals, not particularly perceptive (they are often distracted) in order to read defensive rotations in time (a feature of the Green defense during Zoc’s term) and the position they need to cover. Their times were good during the season because some units had top-athleticism skills. However, the Gist factor changed and keeps on changing the scene..
Before moving on, let’s watch the (once again) excellent video by coach Kostas Kalogeropoulos regarding the second match in OAKA and the Pick&Roll behavior of the two teams in Femer’s possession:
Gist’s black hole in the first two matches..
Fener is in excellent condition. They are boosted from the second half of the first match (it is common knowledge that in the Playoffs even three good minutes can send you into another dimension..) and are now in auto mode. They are exactly where their coach wants them to be. It is also obvious that Panathinaikos is not the cleverest team in the series. . The “Holy Grail” of emotional intelligence is no longer in their possession.. Obradovic has opened the Udoh trap and is now waiting, while the Nigerian is having an amazing series and has seriously hurt the spirit of the opponent with his above the rim performance. Fener’s ability to direct the ball in their defense (vertical help to Bourousis’s Post ups) combined with the nature of the Greek offense (one on one) have rendered Panathinaikos easily decoded in their attempt to produce. The “Clover” (against a very competent peripheral defense) shoots 16/49 three pointers in the first two matches (Kalathes 0/6, Singleton 1/6 from whom the chance of good looks to the basket has been removed). In the second match the Greens played with James’s cojones, who is truly special in one on one offense. But this is not enough…
In my opinion, the “black hole” in the game of Panathinaikos that has altered the character of this team by taking away basic weapons in the battle against this Fener is the presence of James Gist. The non-existence of the American (who represents main virtues of this team’s game and most of all helps the rest to play undistracted according to their skills by being a “leader” on defence together with Calathes) has locked Panathinaikos while Udoh is flexing his muscles. Without Gist (just 26 minutes in total in the two matches, negative Ranking) Pascual is forced to use Bourousis more, thus providing the best stimulus for Fener’s PnR offense. You saw that at the very small period (at the final stretch of the second match) where Gist slightly turned up his energy levels (he is also absent in terms of concentration…) by giving some Defensive Stops, the Greens finally showed part of the character they have this year going from -7 to +3. Gist’s “absence” is one of the main reasons for the opponent’s tremendous performance when they attack on the main lane and Panathinaikos’ general ineffectiveness in PnR defense. Pascual has his hands tied here (although we could have had a glimpse of Gabriel). Without Gist’s defensive package on “5” I don’t know how auspicious tomorrow is (in view of the third game) for the clover..
No one can deny that the chances for qualification for the Greek team have now dropped significantly. Panathinaikos is travelling to Istanbul bearing the 0-2 on their back, against an opponent that is in exceptional condition and also has on their bench a coach who knows how to build the desirable psychological status for his squad before every match. Fener is in excellent condition and this series (provided that it will finish in their favour) can give them a great boost and a steely profile for what comes next. But there is still one more game. The main goal of the Greens will be to turn things around in the series by betting on the “done deal” subconsciously that will hunt the hosts and will threaten to penetrate their mind and break the protective membrane that Obradovic will have put around them. Predictions at this point are not favourable for Panathinaikos. The Greens will play their cards trying (key point) to take control of the match from the beginning. A good evening in execution behind the arc and changing the existing condition in Fener’s activity on the main lane of the green defense can be their allies in an admittedly difficult (not at all impossible) mission.
It’s true that this team has only been together for a few months. Pascual has against him the Alpha Dog of the benches and a well-trained roster in his hands. He will certainly be able to show something better in terms of coherence and automatism as long as this particular group of people (at least its core) stays at OAKA for a long time. We will talk more after the end of the series. For the time being, Panathinaikos has to fight. It will be very important for the character of the team that is being built (always with an eye on the future) by coach Pascual in OAKA to manage to postpone Fener’s party by standing up in the third match of the series..
The ghost of bad nights
It was a fact that Anadolu would be more aggressive and determined in the second game; at the same time, Olympiacos had to manage this aggressiveness and change of their character. Unfortunately, they couldn’t do it, in a game that was played on half court, where Perasovic put his trust on the operation and collaboration of his players. After one point (even when the home team was ahead) Olympiacos looked to battle against the ghost of the bad night that sometimes visits them.
Olympiacos was also different and relied on the safety of Spanoulis-Printezis without getting much help from the other players. Anadolu’s effort to “freeze” the pace by “cutting” the floor in two and the lack of second chance scoring (which we had pointed out how important it was in the first game) lowered the Reds scoring capacity; at the same time their opponent had 21 assists (9 turnovers) and 60.8% (23/38) in two pointers. The famous Olympiacos defence in the paint just wasn’t there on Friday night…
Bordering Pack Line
Spanoulis started the game hot and was a constant threat for Perasovic’s defence on the first half. The main goal of his aggressiveness was to change things around regarding their opponents’ tactic on defence by “dragging” Anadolu’s big man close to the arc, thus creating a better context for the Reds to create a breach (by dribbling or quickly passing, if coach Perasovic chose to change his philosophy and aim to stop the Reds captain from dribbling). Spanoulis blasted away at the Anadolu basket in the first half and his cooperation with Printezis was really wonderful…
However, I have the feeling that Perasovic’s defensive approach for Spanoulis aimed at allowing the Reds’ star player mainly a scorer capacity in this match, which probably paid off for Anadolu. Coach Perasovic tried different players of different nature on the Reds leader, he wanted to involve him (as much as possible and depending on the player that was guarding him) in screens and in general to wear him down by attacking on him in the Turkish offence. When Spanoulis started getting tired, Anadolu gained on defence. Let’s not forget that apart from the Reds captain, the rest of Sfairopoulos’ players shot 5/20 three pointers, allowing Anadolu to defend in a manner bordering Pack Line defence and protect their rim. This proves how important the spot shooting of Mantzaris and the Olympiacos forwards is.
Pick & Roll through Diamond offence
One of the successful situations the Croatian coach presented for Anadolu was the Pick & Roll action in Diamond Offence with Anadolu working on Granger-Dunston. The “adjustment” had to do with the time of execution, as the Turkish team changed their behaviour and looked to pass when facing double-teams on Dunston in the low post, which worked great for them (5 assists for the American Center). On one of the last and most important possessions, they chose to finish with Side PnR (Granger), not middle PnR, which was their main offensive weapon in situations like that. In total, Dunston (Olympiacos put a PF on him in many occasions when the Turks played with “twin towers”) left the first match and his poor performance in it behind him, and was very important for Anadolu (16 points, 6/6 free throws, 5/6 FG, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks). He was one of the main contributors of this performance, as well as Milutinov’s absence (he injured his knee), whose combination of size/footwork had created a serious problem in the first match. Without the young Serbian Center, Olympiacos put far less pressure on Anadolu in the battle for the rebounds in the Turkish basket, and in total there was a balance in the fights for rebounds above the rim this time.
With the game going into its final stretch and Mantzaris being “off” on the bench (-10 in the +/-), Giannis Sfairopoulos, with the picture of a great shot screaming (and finally persuading him…) in the back of his head, decided to trust Spanoulis and Green for his backcourt. This decision proved wrong, as it showed Anadolu, who were looking for a point of reference on their offence, how to attack. Olympiacos gave the switch in the side PnR without a fight (as if they wanted them to attack low, on their defensively weak defenders) to the Turks, who put the ball in the low post (with Brown, a players who, regardless of the night he’s having may shoot above you, he may pass or put the ball on the floor even against a smaller opponent) and this led the way for their great road win. Green has come to Piraeus with this prospect as well (i.e. to play next to Spanoulis), but maybe in this point Olympiacos should have had defence as their first priority. Aiming at giving the ball to Printezis in the low post, coach Sfairopoulos wanted good outside shooters that would prevent the defence from sending help in the low post (Olympiacos’ offensive possessions were good, but the two missed free throws by the international forward hurt them), but there was this weakness on defence.
Apart from Honeycut, who was excellent in the second half (several clutch plays) the barometer for the Turkish team was Jason Granger, who, in a game that wasn’t exactly “his night”, gave a mini-seminar on execution (maybe first for his teammate, Heurtel) on what the role of a floor general is on both ends of the floor. The Uruguan player had 9 assists and just one turnover (AST/TO…), he defended against Spanoulis very well in the last 5 minutes and Anadolu relied exclusively on him in the final minute and a half, to score and close the match. Let’s hope that his mind won’t be so clear in the third match.
In familiar psychological conditions
It’s a fact that Olympiacos could have closed the second match of the series better and could have been on top of things, but now in my opinion they are still the team with the best chances of staying alive after this series has ended. We had pointed before the start of the playoffs that Anadolu is a team that can win at SEF and (there is absolutely no doubt about it) Olympiacos may win in Istanbul, at least once and take the series back to a 5th game at home. Olympiacos is a team that has developed special communication codes both in and outside the court and this coherence may help them deliver under pressure.
The third match is very important, as it will put much pressure on the team that will loose. It will be very interesting to see the way coach Velimir Perasovic will choose this time, having won with his low tempo in SEF. I believe (or I guess…) that Anadolu will again try to multiply the possessions when playing at home and play aggressively in front of their crowd. They have pace players and one of them may be the “chariot” that would pull them, together with their ability to cooperate on offence. I would be “safer” if Olympiacos had Lojeski in these two games, but this is life… With Milutinov back healthy and good spot shooting the Reds have their chances, and these chances are good…
P.S.: In a just life the until now “abandoned and with an expiration date” Darussafaka would beat Fenerbahce in the semifinals of the competition and the regretful sponsor, Dogus, would play possum regarding any movement of capitals to Obradovic’s team.
P.S.1: The two (at first) biggest outsiders have provided a very strong matchup for Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow for 80 minutes. This is why our webpage refuses to give more than a 70% chance to advance for any team before the start of the games…
P.S.2: Ok, I am a fan of Schneider, I love Hayward, but vintage Chris Paul is something else… For a few more shows, with you…
P.S.3: Hats off to our community… Our site’s traffic is from another planet in the last days, proving the title “The place to be” for the Playoffs. It is our own, combined success, given the fact that it is based on debate (not news) that produces reflection, deep thinking and mainly, it produces basketball…
Translated by: George-Orestis Zoumpos