Round 17 opened on Thursday with two teams protecting their home floors and two taking big road wins. Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens remained undefeated at home this season, while Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv got big games from unexpected heroes to keep its fans happy. Then CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul dominated, though the latter had its struggles in the middle part of the game. The EuroLeague Gurus took in all the action and offer up their take with Last Night’s Insights.
D makes sure Greens stay perfect at home
Visitors to Olympic Sports Center Athens might be left wondering, after Panathinaikos beat FC Barcelona Lassa on Thursday, just what it will take to win there this season. The Greens are the only perfect EuroLeague team in its own building, 9-0 now with six home games remaining. But the way they won on Thursday had little to do with what is commonly thought of as home-court advantage. Shortly after halftime, Panathinaikos was shooting 1 for 12 from three-point territory and 5 for 11 at the free throw line while getting outrebounded 27-17 by Barcelona. Nonetheless, the Greens were leading the game and would make sure to grow that lead the rest of the way.
It isn't for nothing that Panathinaikos has the third-ranked defense in the competition, letting up just 75.7 points per game. Among the ingredients of that defense are the third-best steals average and fourth-best in forcing opponents into turnovers. The visitors felt the brunt of both of those numbers as Panathinaikos made 11 steals, tying its season high, in forcing 19 turnovers, which was Barcelona's low.
For all of its own good work on defense, after 27 minutes, Barcelona had only 40 points, in part because leading scorer Kevin Seraphin did not make the trip. But if it was still a close game, 58-54, with eight minutes left. Barcelona soon started looking slower and slower after a night of chasing the Panathinaikos floor-runners, led by Nick Calathes, James Gist and Chris Singleton. With their relentless fans behind them, that trio looked fresh despite spending the most time on the floor for either team. Barcelona lost a step per minute and fell behind by double digits until a last-ditch triple fell on the buzzer to make it 84-75.
If all the ingredients were not there for Barcelona to challenge to the finish, it will be hard to expect Panathinaikos to shoot or rebound worst at OAKA than it did for the game's first 25 minutes. And if the result was nearly a double-digit win this time, it might be time to start thinking that Panathinaikos might well become the first team to go unbeaten at home in the new 30-game EuroLeague regular season.
Maccabi uses hot hands, teamwork to beat Brose
What Maccabi did in beating Brose Bamberg was the ultimate mesh between team play and the riding hot hand. Six Maccabi scorers were in double figures, with two of them – Michel Roll and John DiBartolomeo – setting new career highs. Each of them could be considered the hero of the game. But they were far from alone. Almost every one of those six had a period where the team let him be the go-to guy. And it worked.
Maccabi was going to need someone to step up with Norris Cole sidelined. And the need grew even more when leading scorer Pierre Jackson ran into foul trouble when he was whistled for his fourth foul three minutes into the second half. Roll was the first player to take charge, much earlier. With the team down 6 midway through the second quarter, he scored 4 free throws, drew an offensive foul and made a layup in transition to make it a 2-point game, which was the margin at halftime. In the third quarter, Jackson teamed with Alex Tyus for a pair of slams and Roll continued to roll as the hosts went up by 5. When Jackson took a seat, Brose went ahead by as many as 6 and seemed to be in charge when DiBartolomeo came to the rescue. He sandwiched a pair of threes around 2 free throws in an 8-0 run to put Maccabi ahead, though Brose managed to get back within 65-64 at the end of the third quarter. DiBartolomeo accounted for all the Maccabi points over a nearly six-minute stretch that bridged the third and fourth quarter. His last basket tied the game at 69-69, but Ricky Hickman was just heating up for Brose and put the visitors up by 6 with a pair of threes. And it was 76-84 with five minutes to go. Then Roll scored 5 in a row to revive the hosts. And down the stretch it was all Jackson, who was fresh after spending most of the second half on the bench. Hickman knocked Jackson to the ground on an inbounds play and was called for an unsportsmanlike foul. Jackson recovered to make 2 free throws, draw a foul and make 2 more, and then hit a pull-up three-pointer that gave Maccabi the lead. Although the game would come down to the final seconds, the momentum had shifted and Maccabi held on. Roll, Tyus, DiBartolomeo and Jackson each had his star turn on Thursday. And Maccabi could not have won without them.
CSKA's offense ruins Milan's birthday party
There was a celebratory atmosphere before the game between AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milano and CSKA Moscow. Milan turned 82 years old - amazingly enough, just like Coach Dan Peterson, one of the most celebrated coaches in club history and a EuroLeague winner in 1987 - and celebrated by facing one of the best teams in Europe. Their rivalry goes back more than half a century; Milan beat CSKA 57-68 in the first-ever European Cup final four in 1966. CSKA came off a road loss against FC Barcelona and left no prisoners, making sure it registered its first win in 2018.
The Russian powerhouse won with great authority, winning all four quarters and scoring a EuroLeague season-high 107 points. That is also the second-worst scoring mark allowed by Milan in its EuroLeague history - it allowed 108 in a Top 16 road loss against Tau Ceramica Vitoria Gasteiz in the 2008-09 season. It also tied CSKA's fourth-best scoring mark in the competition, 5 points away from its record - 112 vs. Baskonia last season. It became the first team this season to shoot over 65% inside the arc (66%), over 40% from downtown (42.9%) and over 95% (95.8%) from the free throw line. In other words, CSKA's offense worked close to perfection last night, dishing 22 assists and committing just 10 turnovers. When the dust settled, CSKA had amassed the second-best team PIR - 129 - this season. Only Baskonia did better, getting a team PIR of 132 in its blowout win against Real Madrid.
CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis, however, highlighted his team's defense right after the game. "Besides that third quarter, in which we gave up a lot of points, I think that our defense was on a good level and we have to build on that, for sure," Itoudis said. In the end, it was more than another day in the office for CSKA, which played a fantastic game to get back to the winning track.
Fenerbahce turns struggles into near-perfection
Thursday night’s game in Valencia required plenty of patience from Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul fans. After their team opened the game with a 0-15 lead, for almost full two quarters Fenerbahce looked as though it could hardly buy a basket. Valencia stormed in front 47-39 with four minutes to go in the third quarter, and it was only Fenerbahce’s defense that kept it from falling behind even further. But what happened next was Kostas Sloukas.
“We started to make good choices on offense, moving the ball and finding the open men”, Luigi Datome said after the win. “Point guards were good in finding a right guy to feed and the right mismatch to attack.” When he referred to point guards, for last night’s game he meant Sloukas, who orchestrated the offense to near perfection. The three-time EuroLeague champ first found his own confidence with a pair of baskets late in the third, before starting to pick apart Valencia’s defense in the fourth quarter. He got Datome and Marko Guduric involved, setting them up with open looks, but also put big man Ahmet Duverioglu into great position to either score or continue the ball movement.
“Sloukas is a great player, one of the most important point guards of the European basketball and he controlled the last quarter, and that was the key”, Valencia coach Txus Vidorreta praised the opposing playmaker. And it’s no wonder. Sloukas made Fenerbahce’s offense get buckets with incredible ease. Fenerbahce scored on six consecutive trips down the floor late in the third quarter to turn a 47-39 deficit into a 50-51 lead. After Sloukas was called for an offensive foul on the final possession of the third, and got his baseline pass intercepted on the opening possession of the fourth quarter, Fenerbahce scored on the next eight trips down the floor to open a 57-73 margin. Over the span of 13 minutes, Fenerbahce scored baskets on 18 off of its 21 possessions. Along with 3 turnovers, the champs missed only three shots, but scored second-chance points after each of the misses. It was not perfect, but it was not far from perfection, either. And it all suddenly turned a hard-fought game into an unexpected rout.