Round 16 came to a conclusion on Friday with a quintet of games which saw Olympiacos Piraeus reclaim a share of top spot, while reigning champ Fenerbahce held firm for a tough home win. Real Madrid kept a winning run going but Zalgiris saw its own ended, and Khimki grabbed a key victory on the road. Let the EuroLeague Gurus tell you how the action unfolded.
Role players chipping in as Olympiacos offense clicks
Olympiacos is back in a share of first place in the standings, and AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan was not much of a match on this particular night in Piraeus. Olympiacos was seemingly clicking on all cylinders for three quarters, and enjoyed complete control of the game for 36 minutes, by which time it led 77-60. Milan has to be given credit for never giving up, but do not let the final score, 87-80, fool you. This was, apart from the final quarter, a very complete performance from the Reds, who finally got Nikola Milutinov back after missing five games, and Georgios Printezis after not playing in the last three. And while Olympiacos got its frontcourt pieces back, they had to play without Brian Roberts and lost Janis Strelnieks during the game. “We missed [those] two good guards so we did not have the flexibility to play with a small line-up, but we found solutions,” said Olympiacos coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos after the win. “All the players got involved in the offense.”
The Reds started the game by hitting four triples in less than the opening five minutes, and then used defense to get buckets in transition. They set the tone dishing 7 assists in the first quarter, and finished with a season-high 23. Olympiacos moved the ball so well that out of their 28 field goals, 22 were assisted. Also, 48 first-half points was one shy of their season-best for scoring in a half. With the usual suspects Vassilis Spanoulis and Kostas Papanikolaou leading the way, it was the roles of Kyle Wiltjer and Ioannis Papapetrou off the bench that jumped out and helped Olympiacos’s offense to be clicking like it was. That was important because it allowed Milutinov to be eased back into the lineup, playing only 9 minutes, and Printezis was held well below his average, playing 18 minutes. This could have easily turned into a trap-game against a trigger-happy opponent, on a night when two returnees were playing limited minutes while two other players were out of action. But Olympiacos made sure to take care of business, and remains two games up in the all-important race for home-court playoff advantage.
Fenerbahce loses two players, finds ways to win
The game between Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul and Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz was a hard-fought battle that saw as many as 13 lead changes in the opening three quarters. Late in the third quarter, Jan Vesely left the game for good with a leg injury. In that very same play, but on the other end of the floor, James Nunnally dunked but lost balance and had a bad fall that had him lying on the court for several minutes. Nunnally left the game on a stretcher and went directly to the hospital. It took Baskonia just 14 seconds to get back the lead, 58-59, on a three-point shot by Matt Janning, while the crowd was still in shock after Nunnally's injury.
Most teams would crumble in that situation, but Fenerbahce is the reigning EuroLeague champion and proved it by playing its best minutes right after losing two players. Nicolo Melli struck from downtown and Kostas Sloukas added a layup to make Fenerbahce take the lead for good, 63-59, after 30 minutes. Sloukas capped an 8-0 run with free throws, as Baskonia went scoreless for more than three minutes. Fenerbahce found a new go-to guy in Brad Wanamaker, who helped his team make it a double-digit game, 73-63, after a 15-4 run. Far from being done, loyal to its trademark character Baskonia returned to the game, getting back to 75-73. But a critical stop, a three-chance offense which Marko Guduric capped with free throws and a big basket by Wanamaker allowed Fenerbahce to seal the outcome. Wanamaker wasted no time to dedicate this win to Nunnally. "It was a good team win and a good way to bounce back at home, but our prayers are for James. We responded in the second half. We wanted to win for him," he said. "There is work to be done, we still have to improve, but it was a good win."
Defense leads to runs, Madrid wins
Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv came out ready to play at WiZink Center in the Spanish capital, hitting six of is opening seven shots from downtown to get a double-digit lead, 15-26. Maccabi found balance down low through Art Parakhouski. Both Parakhouski and Pierre Jackson – stepping up in Norris Cole's absence – had 14 points before the break and their team led 48-50 at halftime. Everything changed after the interval, however, as Real Madrid improved its defense and that allowed the hosts to play their game. Indeed, Maccabi hit 10-of-24 two-point shots (41.7%) in the second half and Madrid's suffocating defense only allowed its opponents to take six shots from beyond the arc – after hitting six of its opening seven, Maccabi finished with nine of 20 three-pointers.
After the break, Madrid hustled like few times before this season, collecting six steals, blocking four shots and pulling down eight offensive boards. All that allowed Los Blancos to go on a 15-0 run in which Trey Thompkins, Facu Campazzo and Jaycee Carroll combined for all the points to get the lead for good. Rudy Fernandez capped another 13-0 run which back-to-back triples to seal the outcome. Everything Maccabi did great in the first half disappeared after the break – Parakhouski was limited to two points in the second half – and Madrid cruised to its fifth consecutive win in a day in which Luka Doncic received less playing time due to a finger problem while blocking a shot. "We talked at halftime that they cannot make 50 points in one half," Madrid head coach Pablo Laso said after the game. "I think we worked hard with our second unit. I think Carroll did a great job on Jackson, trying to shut him down. He really tired him. We did a good job for 40 minutes and increased our defensive level in the second half."
Khimki sneaks win in upside-down battle with Bamberg
Friday night’s meeting between Brose Bamberg and Khimki Moscow Region was a strange affair, to say the least. In the first quarter, neither team could stop scoring – especially from long range, with three-point strikes accounting for 27 of the 52 total points recorded in the opening ten minutes. The second quarter was a very different kind of contest, with defenses getting well on top as the action was punctuated by regular stoppages including a lengthy delay which resulted in Khimki’s Egor Vyaltsev being ejected for a pair of unsportsmanlike fouls. Still, though, most of the points came from long-range, with 18 of the 30 points scored in the second quarter coming from beyond the arc. By the interval, both teams had only netted five two-pointers apiece, meaning that close-range strikes had accounted for just 20 of the 82 points.
But in the second half, memories of the free-flowing, fast-scoring opening quarter became dim and distant, with both offenses desperately struggling to score. There was also a move away from the previous reliance on three-pointers. During the half-time interval, Khimki coach Georgios Bartzokas told EuroLeague TV, with a considerable degree of understatement: “We overdid it with three-pointers,” after witnessing his team attempt no less than 22 three-point attempts in the opening two quarters (converting eight). After the interval, Khimki calmed down from long range and became much more selective with its shot-making, finishing with a total of 30 three-point attempts.
Eventually, the key to the final outcome was at the other end of the court, where Brose consistently suffered terrible troubles in making baskets. Having scored 26 points in the first quarter, the German team could only manage 16 in the second and third quarters apiece, and then just 12 in the final period – including no field goals whatsoever in the last 6 minutes and 20 seconds. From Bamberg scoring 26 points in the opening ten minutes to just five free-throws in the last six, the game had been turned completely upside-down, and in the end Khimki came away with a win which was probably had little resemblance to the pre-game plans drawn up by Bartzokas. But a win is a win, and it leaves Khimki handily placed in the all-important top eight in the standings.
Davidovac's veteran savvy
At this stage of a season, when two of the hottest teams in the EuroLeague, both of whom like to rumble, go head to head on the same floor and go deep into the fourth quarter with no clear winner, teams look instinctively to their veterans to make the difference. But Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade boss Dusan Alimpijevic had an ace up his sleeve who was playing in just the 10th game of his EuroLeague career: 22-year-old Dejan Davidovac. His endless arms make Davidovac look and play a lot longer than his 2.02 meters. And indeed he had the length to challenge taller forwards, as when he rejected Aaron White of Zalgiris Kaunas twice on the same play in the fourth quarter on Friday. He also handles the ball nimbly enough to bring the ball upcourt, as he did several times in the same interval with 1.88 point guard Kevin Pangos guarding him for the visitors. But it was young Davidovac's outside shot that made all the difference on Friday.
In a span of 3 minutes in the heart of that fourth quarter, Davidovac straightened up on the arc and drilled a trio of three-pointers that made New Year's cheers reverberate from Aleksandar Nikolic Arena around the city of Belgrade. Zalgiris had been the EuroLeague's hottest and toughest team of late, and its ability to erase a 10-point deficit to tie when Pangos hit the first three-pointer of the fourth quarter sent a bit of doubt through the old arena. But quiet-until-then Davidovac was ready with his first triple, and when that fell, his older teammates knew what to do. That's because in his previous nine games in the EuroLeague, Davidovac had either made every triple he attempted or missed them all. In four games he tried at least one without making any; in three others, he didn't miss; and in two more he didn't shoot at all from long distance. This time, he buried 3 of 3 in a span of less than 3 minutes, turning the game clearly in his team's favor on the way to a career-high 13 points. It was the kind of performance you expect from the streakiest shooters or the savviest veterans. But Zvezda found a game-winner in their young rookie, who was savviest of all.