The final night of the regular season had lift off with an overtime thriller that changed the playoffs landscape and meant that two games afterward were all about pride for the home teams. The EuroLeague Gurus run down how it happened.
Zalgiris shows two different faces
Zalgiris Kaunas registered an overtime road win against Olympiacos Piraeus, but head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius was worried after the game. Zalgiris rallied to win the game but had a poor first half, missing open shots and allowing many easy baskets. Indeed, Olympiacos led 25-10 after 10 minutes and kept a 43-29 margin second before halftime.
"I don't understand why we came out like this in the first half. This year's team is more of fighters. I don't know. We dug ourselves in a hole in a lot of games and came out. We cannot dig ourselves in a hole like this in a playoffs series. We will face the most experienced teams without the home-court advantage, where every detail will be multiplied by two, like it was today," Jasikevicius said afterwards. "As a competitor, you have to go out and compete in every game. It was a big shock for me how we started. To tell you the truth, it was not a big shock that we came back, but it was a big shock how we started. I didn't expect this. I thought the team was ready. Maybe yesterday's results kind of messed with their brains a little bit. Let's hope we can show our second-half face in the playoffs. If we play like in the first half, obviously, we are not ready for the playoffs."
Olympiacos still led by 16 points, 59-43, late in the third quarter, but Zalgiris found a go-to guy in veteran playmaker Beno Udrih, who led a 0-15 run that got Zalgiris back in the game. Despite entering the final seconds with a four-point deficit, Olympiacos managed to take the game to overtime, where a tip-in by Paulius Jankunas allowed Zalgiris to get a come-from-behind win.
Now, the same teams will meet each other again in the playoffs. Olympiacos will have the home-court advantage and the experience at this level, but Zalgiris has proved to be very competitive at home and on the road. It collected 13 steals, its season high, on Friday and took 57 two-point shots, its highest number of attempts inside the arc since 2002. Expect Olympiacos to be at full speed when the series starts, and Jasikevicius to come out with yet another exciting game plan.
Valencia finds a reason
From a promising 3-1 start that included the season's single widest victory margin – 91-53 over Unicaja Malaga – Valencia Basket saw its great ambitions disappear under an onslaught of injuries that led directly to a 10-game losing streak, the longest in the EuroLeague this season.
By the season's midway point, its record was 4-11 and its hopes of recovering were slim. But through sheer pride and the recovery of some of those injured players, Valencia turned the second half of its season into something special, finishing on Friday with an 87-84 home over Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv.
If other teams had to play games without playoff objectives later in the season, Valencia's last-place standing after 14 rounds pointed to a long second half. But rather than feel sorry, the team went about its business as if the losing streak had not happened, going 9-7 the rest of the way.
Along the way, Valencia toppled a series of prestigious visitors to the city, like Panathinaikos, Khimki, CSKA and Madrid – all of whom made the playoffs.
The last step was not easy, holding on to beat Maccabi, which rallied from 18 down in the second half to twice pull within a point, the last time at 85-84 with 5 seconds left, before Valencia hit free throws to ice the game and its impressive second half of the season. The last win let Valencia finish 12-18 and move up from 14th to 11th place in the final standings.
The star of the game for Valencia, big man Bojan Dubljevic, explained after it finished that he and his teammates had plenty of motivation despite what others might think – and for good reason.
"Big game for us," Dubljevic said. "We saw a game with a lot of tribulation, but for us what's most important is the victory for our confidence in the Spanish League. We're going to do everything now to come back to the EuroLeague next year."
Real Madrid finds rhythm through Randolph, halftime fixes
Few players, if any, have started a game as well as Real Madrid star big man Anthony Randolph did against Brose Bamberg on Friday night. Randolph downed a stop-and-pop jumper, then got into the passing lanes to collect a steal and dunk, and went on to do it again, throwing down a tomahawk slam off a steal. All of a sudden, Madrid led 7-0 and Randolph was the only scorer in the game.
Bamberg collected 3 turnovers in the first 3 minutes, but just 1 in the next 17. Madrid were outrebounded by 10-14 before halftime and Bamberg led most of the way before the break, hitting 6 of 10 three-point shots, dishing 10 assists and limiting turnovers to 4 total. Madrid was scoring a lot (80% 2FG, 50% 3FG) but defense was not there. Adjustments were needed at halftime and Madrid managed to improve its defense. Bamberg went on to hit just 1 of 8 shots from downtown in the second half, picking up 7 turnovers and being outrebounded by 23-14 after the break.
Despite being without pass-first point guard Facu Campazzo, Madrid had 24 assists and just 6 turnovers, finishing the game with a PIR of 142 - a EuroLeague season high, surpassing Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv's 137 against AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan in January. Randolph finished the game with a PIR of 38 in just 24 minutes and head coach Pablo Laso praised him after the game.
"Anthony needed a game like that. He had been playing well in the last three or four weeks, with a lot of activity, doing a lot of things right, and felt a little frustrated at times because some of his shots went in and out," he said. "I believe that a player needs that confidence to see he scores baskets, grabs rebounds, blocks shots. I am very happy with the way he is working. It was hard for him after the injury, going step by step, and I am happy that he played his best game with us in the EuroLeague, in terms of numbers."