We come off an unbelievable loss in Berlin. I don't even know what to say! This is basketball and the beauty of it is that sometimes you don't know the winner until the final second. We lost against ALBA at home and they forced overtime with a shot in the final seconds. They won the game in overtime and a week later, we were up by one point in Berlin but they drew a foul in the final second, literally the final second, and won the game again. It is a bit frustrating but as I said, it is part of the sport. We still have a chance, and we believe in our chances to make it to the playoffs. We learned a lesson the hard way. What happened is on our minds but we have to move on and get ready for the next game. This is a golden rule in professional sports: You have to forget about the past, learn from it, and play hard in the present to have a bright future.
Not everything was bad. We did a lot of things right to have a chance to win in Berlin. We played really well in the first half, following our game plan and everything that our coaches prepared. We knew where ALBA could hurt us and we were focused and concentrated on the floor, ready to stop them. We were up by 18 at halftime but after that, I think we may have relaxed a little bit and allowed them to get offensive rebounds. They scored some second-chance points and those offensive rebounds led to some important three-point shots. They also found fastbreak points, and when you are playing at home, offensive rebounds and fastbreak points give you a lot of extra energy. We played with a lot of energy in the first half, but they took it away from us and used it against us. It was a team effort; they won the game and it is behind us now. We know what we did wrong in the second half and will work hard to improve that.
"You have to forget about the past, learn from it, and play hard in the present to have a bright future."
Like I said in my first blog entry, our group is very interesting. You have no idea who can be first and last. Small details will be important in every game. We showed that we are right there, at the same level as ALBA. We could have two more wins, easily, and nobody would complain about it. We deserved those wins as much as they did, but ALBA beat us twice in the final seconds. We have to move on and think of the next game against Partizan in Belgrade. We showed that we can play and I am pretty sure we will show some great basketball in the next couple of games, just like we did until now.
Playing in Belgrade, at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall, the former Pionir Arena, will be special. I remember back in the days when Croatian teams had to go there and play at Pionir. It is something I will remember for my whole life. The team buses had extra security everywhere and the gym was full one hour and a half before the start of the game. It was a unique atmosphere in European courts. It is still a hot court and Partizan has chances to make it to the next round, so we will play in front of a full gym. I have to say I enjoy playing in gyms like this. Each and every time, I would rather play in front of 10,000 or 15,000 people booing me than playing in an empty gym. I am looking forward to playing there!
Partizan changed since Andrea Trinchieri joined the team. They also signed two new players, Jankovic and Renfroe, and now they have pretty clear ideas both on offense and defense. They are playing much better than at the beginning of the season. They are a very respectable team and proved it by winning in Monaco. I really respect their coach and their basketball, but that doesn't mean I am scared of Partizan. Of course, we are going there to win the game. It is simple – we will be out if we lose, and Partizan will practically be out with a loss, too. The winner will keep its chances in Round 6 and the loser will be finished. The main thing will be controlling the rhythm of the game, because that will stop them from scoring easy baskets. They are a young team and will try to find confidence through easy baskets. If we control our rhythm on offense, that will give us a good defensive balance in transition. We have to follow our own defensive rules and from good defense, we will find easier baskets on offense.
"I really respect their coach and their basketball, but that doesn't mean I am scared of Partizan."
It is a great EuroCup season so far. Some people are surprised to see Andorra do so well, but I am not. I watched some of their regular season games and they convinced me. They have a good team, good chemistry and don't depend on just one player. For instance, Andrew Albicy did not play against Zenit and they won anyway. It is a well-constructed team and their Top 16 results confirm what I saw before; they can play basketball against everyone. They are doing well, just as Lokomotiv and some others. It is impossible to name a favorite. Basketball can be very strange and interesting; everything can change in a day. Of course, the top teams are in everyone's minds – Lokomotiv, Valencia, Andorra, UNICS – but I cannot say one of these teams will win the EuroCup for sure.
Last but not least, I want to send a "get well soon" message to my friend Scott Bamforth, who had a knee injury. I was watching his game with Dinamo Sassari on the bus with my iPad, coming back from a Lithuanian League game. It was on the last possession of the game, the game was won and he was on a fastbreak – no contact with anyone else, nothing. I feel sorry for any athlete who gets injured. I know how it feels not to be able to play because it is physically impossible to do it. In that situation, there are two ways to go. Either you give up or fight to come back even stronger. Scott is very professional and loves the game. I know how much basketball he watches. I sent him a message and has my support. I hope he will come back stronger.
I believe in my team and my coaching staff! Let's go, Rytas!