Moving On…

Just in case anybody sees this, I will probably not be updating this blog for the forseeable future. Why? Because some people for some reason thought they’d like me to write for their sites, and I of course said yes!

You can read me at a new blog called Euro Step, which is the creation of Simas Baranauskas, who has gathered some great writers from across Europe, and also me.

And pretty soon you should be able to read the odd piece of mine on the The Basketball Post, run by Rafael Uehara, who really is essential reading on both his own site and Euroleague Adventures. You can, and should, follow the ELA guys on the twitter account they seem to share, although I think it’s Freaknick most of the time. Confusing, but awesome.

Thanks for reading, and make sure you check out those websites and people on a regular basis, for superb content in a range of styles on everything basketball in Europe (and beyond). Nice one.


Euroleague QF Game 1s In The Book

Caja Laboral 76 v 70 Maccabi Electra (Caja leads 1-0)
The consensus around the web seemed to be that if Caja could contain Sofoklis Schortsanitis, they might have a fighting chance in this one. Well, Big Sofo played 13 minutes with 4 points, 3 rebounds and a 5 ranking and Caja won 76-70, so, was that the key? Well, yes and no. Sofo’s ineffectiveness and inability to keep up with the pace did allow Caja to dictate how the game was played, but it didn’t mean Maccabi couldn’t have won. The key period was the opening one, when a barrage of 3s rained down from David Logan and Fernando San Emeterio and the hosts led 17-5, and by as many as 15 in the second quarter.

When Maccabi went on an 8-0 run to start the second half it was led by Richard Hendrix at both ends of the floor, swatting shots and finishing strongly – and on the break – at the other end. But when Caja play like this, it’s just very difficult to beat them. They will give you a chance to get back into games but in this one they were never far from a momentum-killing 3 pointer or two to keep Maccabi at arms length. They have such quickfire and accurate perimeter players that the paint is often wide open for Stanko Barac to finish on the screen and roll, and if you collapse to stop that, you’re asking to get bombed on. Barac finished with 17 points on 6/8 from 2 and 1/1 from 3 in only 23 minutes, and David Logan sank 4/7 from downtown amongst his 14 points. Richard Hendrix was a beast for Maccabi, and was the main reason they were still in this game til the end, with 16 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks and a 28 ranking in only 22 minutes. It wasn’t enough though, and Lior Eliyahi will want to forget his 5/14 shooting night in a hurry.

What can Caja Laboral take from this? They shoot, they score, they win. This was probably the best-case scenario for Caja, they just need to repeat it twice more and they’ll be going to the Final Four. They jumped out to an early lead and never really led Maccabi come back into it, although it was 69-64 with just over three minutes left, they didn’t change their game and didn’t panic. If they shoot 13/26 from downtown again, they’ll probably win, because you can’t leave those shooters open, allowing Barac to use his mobility and dexterity finishing on the move as opposed to getting caught up trying to bang in the deep post.

What can Maccabi take from this? Dusko Ivanovic won the battle of the gameplans, by running Sofo off the floor they didn’t allow Maccabi to utilise his size and and strength advantage inside. David Blatt is a master defensive schemer, and he should go with Hendrix for even more minutes in Game 2, as he matches up better in terms of style with Caja’s big men. Maybe Caja won’t hit 13 threes in every game, in fact they probably won’t, but from the evidence of last night, Maccabi should be slightly worried. With Pape Sow injured, Caja’s theoretical weakness is big man depth, so if Hendrix can get Barac or Batista into foul trouble, maybe Maccabi can exploit that by turning to Sofo in short spells, but last night even Mirza Teletovic went near enough the rim to grab 11 rebounds, and Nemanja Bjelica didn’t even play.

Regal Barcelona 83 – 82 Panathinaikos (Regal Barcelona leads 1-0)
Wow. I didn’t see much of this game, but I saw the best bit. Pana led 60-57 after three quarters, but Barcelona went on an 11-0 run to retake the lead. Pana got it down to a 1 point deficit at 76-75 with 1:10 to go. Fran Vazquez was the beneficiary of what Zeljko Obradovic seemed to be implying was a fortunate call to go to the line for his third and fourth free throws of the final minute and when Terrence Morris put Barca up by 5 from the line with time running out it looked all over. Dimitris Diamantidis hit a ludicrous off-balance three to cut it to 82-80 and then Jaka Lakovic made only 1 from the line – Barca then nearly threw the game away when Victor Sada made a boneheaded decision to foul DD just before he attempted a prayer from halfcourt, and was called (rightly) for the unsportsmanlike with 1.7 seconds on the clock and Pana down by just three. Diamantidis hit both from the line and the Greens had a halfcourt inbounds for the win, but Diamantidis couldn’t get a great look and his 28 footer missed to the right. It was reminsicent of the Top 16 game in Tel Aviv when Alan Anderson inexplicably fouled after a missed freebie thinking his team was up 3 when in fact it was only 2. That game went to OT (which FCB won), but in this case Pana couldn’t get the miracle ending.

What can Barcelona take from this? Don’t grab a guy round the waist right in front of the ref with less than 2 seconds on the clock when you’re up three, and if you MUST, don’t make it Dimitris Diamantidis. Also, it’s hard to really say anything from box-score parsing when you only saw the last 2 minutes, but 4 points, 1 assist and 1 turnover in 16 minutes isn’t going to do Ricky Rubio’s rep any good. Although anyone who has seen Barcelona play knows that they don’t actually need him to play well in order to win.

What can Panathinaikos take from this? Again, I’m trying not to use the box score as a Jump to Conclusions Mat, but Double D’s career high 26 points suggests he did take advantage of his physical advantage over Ricky Rubio, Jaka Lakovic and Victor Sada. The game came down to the final possession, and they seem to be absolutely able to compete with the reigning champs. The series is still wide open, and all that.

Real Madrid 71 – 65 Power Electronics Valencia (Real Madrid leads 1-0)
Nikola Freaking Mirotic. How was it that this guy didn’t play until halfway through the season? I repeat, Nikola Freaking Mirotic. 20 years old, the ice in his veins is colder than a Montenegrin winter. He scored all of this 11 points in the final quarter, and the key 5 points in the final minute as Madrid finally put away a game it looked like they really, really wanted to throw away. Missing contested jumpers, getting the offensive rebound, missing again, rebound…. Madrid have the clear advantage upfront but it nearly didn’t count for anything. I hate to pick on Clay Tucker (no, really), he’s far from useless, but a pair of airballs off turnaround 20 footers in the final 2 minutes capped off a 1/7 shooting night and summed up a passage of play that nearly led to Valencia stealing the win. It was an unwelcome reminder of what happened in the ACB game at the Fuente San Luis where Valencia ground out a win over a Madrid side that gave them every chance. This was the best and worst of Madrid, they dominated possession, winning the rebounds by 42-26 (including 21 offensive) attempting 70 field goals to Valencia’s 49, but going a stinky 5/22 from beyond the arc. Mirotic’s three from the corner bailed his team out of a game they probably should have lost – and would have without him.

What can Real Madrid take from this? Give the ball to Mirotic. Clay Tucker shouldn’t see the floor in the last 3 minutes. So, pretty much the same as normal.

What can Valencia take from this? They got comprehensively shafted on the boards and only lost by 5 points. Omar Cook had his way, with 8 assists and they did shoot 59% from two point range. What killed them was all the second (and third, and fourth) chances for Madrid. Solve the problems on the boards, and they’re in with a shout. The downside is, ‘solving the problems on the boards’ is easier said than done with the sheer size Madrid have at multiple positions, and it’s difficult to imagine them having more 5/22 nights from 3 point range. They might want to consider doubling Mirotic in the fourth quarter too, and daring Llull and Tucker not to gun their way to a loss.

Olympiakos 89 – 41 Montepaschi Siena (Olympiakos leads 1-0)
53-9. That was the score at the midway point of the third quarter. Those of you reading from Britain, and older than around 25, might remember the vidiprinter. Remember the vidiprinter? It was the old-school BBC version of ‘Final Score’ – it had a blue screen and the football scores appeared on it from about 4:45pm every Saturday (remember when football was always on Saturdays?) as if ‘typed’ (I always wondered why the typist never made any spelling mistakes) so when you saw the first few letters of your team’s name appear you held your breath for a few seconds in anticipation. Simpler times…. Anyway, when a team had scored more than five goals, it printed the score in words as well as digits, just so you were sure it wasn’t an error. Like “Arsenal 6 (six) – Manchester City 1″. Well, at one point, this game was Olympiakos 53 (fifty three) – Montepaschi 9 (nine). I didn’t see any of this game, and I’m not sure anything can actually be taken from it. Montepaschi better hope so, anyway.


Euroleague Quarter Final Previews – in the nick of time

In time-honoured tradition, familiar to anybody who taught me at the University of Manchester or has been my manager in any of my jobs since, I take deadlines very literally. If you ask me to do something by a certain time and date, it will get done, but don’t expect to see it early. And so it goes for this Euroleague preview. Competing better sites have, annoyingly, acted with more diligence and delivered accurate, witty and informed previews, I have read them all, and tried not to be influenced by them. Although they make so many good points, it’s difficult not to be. Anyway, if you think some of this is familiar, don’t think I’m claiming that my words below are all 100% original, but you’ll have to take my word for it that I’ve had said some of this stuff anyway! So on to the matchups:

Caja Laboral v Maccabi
This is the most fascinating series just because of the clash of styles. Big Sofo is the key, but Maccabi actually look more fluid sometimes when he’s off the floor, Perkins and Pargo can get out and run a bit more. But Sofo being on the floor and getting the ball means more time for Pape Sow and Esteban Batista for Caja Lab, probably at the expense of Mirza Teletovic, who has an allergic reaction to the paint (or you would think so) which takes out one of Caja’s big offensive weapons. It’s not a wise man who puts any faith in Caja to be consistent, but I can’t help thinking they’ll win the series in 5, I think they have too much offense for Maccabi to handle. But as someone who loves running, uptempo ball, maybe I’m just hoping. It’s a big IF, but if Sofo gets into foul trouble or is ineffective, that will allow Caja to put out their best lineup, and if Maccabi try to up the pace, I think the Basque team is just slightly better at that game. So my prediction is Caja Laboral in 5.

Barcelona v Panathinaikos
Barcelona have wobbled a tad lately, losing to Fuenlabrada in ACB play and narrowly avoiding defeat at bottom of the table Menorca Basquet. I watch a lot of ACB and the more you see a team, the more you become aware of their strenghts, but also their weaknesses. I’m going to ignore the domestic swoon though – it looked like nothing more than mental fatigue, even with such a deep squad, with bench players who would start on literally any other team in Europe, the grind of the season inevitably takes its toll at some point. Barcelona have the most talent in the competition, but Ricky Rubio will have his work cut out against Dimitris Diamantidis. I expect DD to wear him out on both sides of the floor, in the biggest matchup advantage for the Greens, so Jaka Lakovic could have a pivotal role in this series. Aleks Maric is back in the middle for PAO, and Mike Batiste will be a tough matchup for Lorbek, Anderson and Vasquez, but with so many bodies to throw into the mix, it’s hard to see anybody outlasting Barcelona in a series. If this was a Final 4 tie I would be more inclined to go with Pana, but in a series? I’m saying Barcelona in 4.

Real Madrid v Power Elec Valencia
Injuries have hit both teams – Real will be without Sergio Rodriguez and (possibly) Clay Tucker; Valencia without Victor Claver and James Augustine, the latter being replaced temporarily by the oldest player in the competition, 44 year old Darryl Middleton. Ouch. When this tie was set, I would have been leaning toward Valencia, who defeated Real in their last ACB clash, and were riding the wave of qualification from the Top 16. Real may have lost a heartbreaker to the Jorge Garbajosa Angel of Vengeance show on Saturday, but they seem to have been playing with a new found freedom since Messina’s departure from the bench, and with a stonking collection of frontcourt talent, plus the ability through necessity to give Sergio Llull more minutes and touches as a creator (not to mention the addition by subtraction of Clay Tucker’s defensive ‘prowess’ and questionable shot selection) they should have too much for Valencia. Prediction: Real Madrid in 4.

Olympiakos v Montepaschi Siena
Bo McCallebb is back, and although that might pose some questions as to upsetting the flow Montepaschi had got into during his absence, bringing back the most destructive offensive point guard in Europe can’t be a bad thing. I keep going back to teams with power and depth upfront, and I find it hard to ignore that here. Rasho Nesterovic is shooting 76% in EL play and that is largely a factor of him only seeming to attempt tip ins and dunks. I don’t have any hard data to back that up, but you must, repeat, must box this guy out. Montepaschi don’t, on first glance, have anybody who will really be capable of this. Milan Rakovic could do it, but if I was putting money on him doing it 3 times in 5 games, to such a level of success that Montepaschi wins, well, I wouldn’t. I’m also a big fan of youngsters Loukas Mavrokefalides, who stepped up when Ioannis Bourossis was suspended, and Zoran Erceg, who may not even play much in this series. Like Barcelona, Ivkovic’s side have experience and depth at every position, and whilst McCallebb will tire Milos Teodosic and Malik Hairston is proving to be a difficult cover, a bit like the Barcelona v Pana series, if this was a one off, maybe that wins out, but over a series, I’m playing it safe and saying Olympakos in 4.

As I said at the top, I urge you to read:
Euroleague Adventures @ Slam Online (and listen to the podcast if you haven’t already)
Ball in Europe
Euroleague.net

and most of all to enjoy the feast of basketball with which we’re about to be blessed!


Garbajosa back at Unicaja, big game on Saturday

Jorge Garbajosa has rejoined Unicaja Malaga after being released by Real Madrid. Truth be told, it wasn’t really working out for Garbo in the capital this year, as he slipped to the bottom of the ri-dic-ulous depth chart in the frontcourt, behind Reyes, Mirotic, Fischer, Tomic and, recently, Mirza Begic.

This leaves your author with a dilemma. He has a definite place in his heart for Real, since visiting Madrid in November, going to their Euroleague game vs Olympiacos and visiting the Bernebeu. But Unicaja are every GB fan’s ACB team, featuring, as they do, Joel Freeland and Robert Archibald. And dammit, if you don’t get a little tug at your heart strings watching this video, then I think you might be dead inside. My verdict on Joel Freeland’s acting skills? That’s not acting, bro. That expression came straight from the heart. (via Tas Melas and The Basketball Post)

Garbo faces down his old teammates this coming Saturday, March 17th, 16:00GMT tip off, free streaming on acb.com.

POSTSCRIPT: It appears that the video won’t play, but click on it to watch at youtube.com. Also, I think this is an admirably inventive, playful way for an organisation to use the internet and social media to connect with their fans. Bravo, Unicaja Malaga.


It’s a YES!

There will be a time for analysis. There will be a time for comment. This isn’t the end of the hard work, it’s just the beginning.

Tonight is like when Deng sank that three in Newcastle last summer. Multiplied by a million, billion.

Tonight is a time for drinking. Cheers, everybody.


Sad end for Rytas, Party in Valencia

Well, that’s the Euroleague Top 16 in the books, and even if none of the crucial games came down to the last possession, they were still fascinating and intense to the end.

Serious San Emeterio is serious. And has balls. Come on, it was obvious…

There were three games with everything at stake, click the jump to read about them…


Euroleague Quarter Final Picture Emerging

After another dramatic night in Euroleague Top 16 play, some of the quarter final seedings are beginning to take shape, whilst elsewhere there is an almighty logjam developing.

Group E
In the biggest shock of the week, the Lithuanians continued their incredulous run towards a quarter final spot, beating Panathinaikos 68-67. Khalid el-Amin might not be the best player in the competition, but I’d love to hear nominations for anyone cooler under pressure. He sank two free throws with 3.1 seconds remaining, after Dimitris Diamantidis had done the same with 7 on the clock. Pana took a timeout to inbound from their frontcourt but Drew Nicholas’ fallaway three from the left corner was no good.

Caja Laboral comfortably won the all-ACB clash 78-63 over Unicaja. This wasn’t really a close game at any point, even though it was 40-38 close to halftime. Unicaja’s season is petering out and there is much to address in the summer, not least the backcourt. Joel Freeland got his 15/8 in usual fashion, but it wasn’t enough.

Group E now looks very complicated indeed. Unicaja are eliminated, but Pana, Caja Laboral and Rytas are all tied on 3-2. The latter two teams play each other next week in Vilnius, with the winner guaranteed a quarter final spot. Panathaniakos should get that other slot, by winning at Unicaja, but stranger things have happened. Should Pana win, they will win the group if Rytas beat Caja Laboral, as the Greens hold the tiebreak. Caja Lab will win the group by beating Rytas as they hold the tiebreak over Pana.

If Unicaja wins, then Panathaniakos will be rooting for Caja Lab to win. If that happens, the Greeks hold the tiebreak over Rytas, and with both teams on 3-3, Panathinaikos would progress.

Group F
Whoever wins Group E will get homecourt advantage in the QF series against Maccabi Tel Aviv, after they finished second in group F. They lost to Barcelona, 92-85 in OT. This was in some ways a free pass for both teams, having both already qualified for the quarter final stage, but Maccabi would have wanted the 11 point win that would have given them a chance to win the group. Alan Anderson nearly came up the goat at the end of regulation – having made a comeback over the course of the game to lead by 1, Erazem Lorbek went to the line with 3.6 on the clock. He sank the first but missed the second, the rebound going to Doron Perkins. Anderson instinctively grabbed Perkins as he tore up the court, to prevent the 3. It was an ingenious move with only one flaw – Barcelona were up only two. Perkins stepped up with 1.4 left to tie the game at 73-73 and Anderson was powerless to make up for his error, having fouled out.

In the end, it didn’t matter, as the Catalans scored an incredible 19 points in overtime to overwhelm their hosts. That leaves nothing to play for in week 6 other than bragging rights, with FCB guaranteed top spot and Maccabi locked into second place.

In the dead rubber, Lottomatica Roma salvaged some pride by overcoming Union Olimpija 87-76 away at the Stozice Arena.

Group G
Real Madrid had already qualified but their 61-56 win in Belgrade over Partizan sews up the #1 seed from group G. Partizan are still winless but to their credit this game was only decided in the final minute, a key Ante Tomic bankshot from the post proving decisive. Tomic led all scorers with 21, whilst at the very other end of the spectrum, Partizan point guard Curtis Jerrels ended scoreless in 16 minutes, 0/8 from the field and a -7 ranking. Ouch. Llull and Mirotic were also in double figures for Madrid. Real are still undefeated and whilst this wasn’t a vintage performance, any win at Pionir is a good win.

Montepaschi rode that crucial home advantage at the Palaestra to outlast Efes 88-76 in a fantastic game. It was a real team effort, particularly on defense in the second half. After a first half in which both sides were scoring at will, Siena kept their heads above water to lead 49-47. Moss, Kaukenas, Rakovic and Ksistof Lavrinovic shared the scoring load, whilst some stingy defense after the break shut down Nikola Vujicic and Igor Rakocevic just enough to pull away for a double digit win that was nevertheless hard fought and never guaranteed.

Montepaschi are the #2 seed in the group and will play Olympiakos in the QFs. Madrid will play either Fenerbahce or Power Electronics Valencia, who play each other next week. If Fenerbahce win, they are guaranteed 2nd spot; Valencia need to win by 3 or more to get the tiebreak over their rivals from Istanbul.

Group H
As above, Olympiakos beat a short handed Fenerbahce 80-65 and the injuries to Mirsad Turkcan and Gasper Vidmar seem to have caught up with FBU upfront. Even though Ioannis Borousis was suspended, young bucks Loukas Mavrokefelides and Zoran Erceg went crazy, with 18 and 19 points between them. Fenerbahce had no answer for those two, plus Rasho Nesterovic, as Olympiakos showed that they are just as deep as Barcelona and can throw any number of different combinations of players at any team. Spanoulis glided to the hoop in characteristic fashion more than once, and Theo Papaloukas took over from Milos Teodosic late on as the Serbian had a bit of an off-night.

Valenica went to Kaunas and beat Zalgiris 80-74, eventually getting rid of the pesky Lithuanian side who very nearly staged a miracle comeback in the final 90 seconds. With the key game next week agains Fenerbahce taking place in northeastern Spain, it would be difficult to bet against Valencia, on a role at home to go up to 3rd in the ACB and the Turks looking weary from injuries. An all-ACB quarter final is probably not what Real Madrid would be looking for, given their spotty domestic form lately, losing again this afternoon against Blancos de Rueda Valladolid.


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