Higgins's last-second jumper lifts Barcelona
Cory Higgins made the game-winning jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining to lift FC Barcelona to its first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game in more than a decade. Barcelona eked out a thrilling 84-82 semifinal triumph over AX Armani Exchange Milan on Friday night at Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany. The victory brought Barcelona within one win of its third EuroLeague crown and set up a date with Anadolu Efes Istanbul in Sunday's championship game. Barcelona fought back from an 8-point third-quarter deficit and survived a fourth quarter that featured three lead changes and was tied entering the final minute. Nikola Mirotic led the winners with 21 points, Nick Calathes tallied 17 points and 6 assists before leaving with an ankle injury. Higgins finished with 11 points and Pau Gasol scored 10 points for Barcelona, which last played in the championship game in 2010 when it won its second EuroLeague crown. Kevin Punter paced Milan with 23 points, Vladimir Micov scored 14, Shavon Shields 13 and Sergio Rodriguez 11.
Calathes opened the scoring with a tip-in before Micov got Milan on the scoreboard. However, a three by Mirotic and a coast-to-coast layup by Calathes for a 7-2 lead prompted Coach Messina to call a timeout after just 2 minutes. Milan came right back through Micov and Zach LeDay, through Higgins kept Barcelona in front. A jumper by LeDay made it 14-12 after 5 minutes. Malcolm Delaney added a three to give Milan its first lead. The lead would be short-lived. After a timeout, Mirotic and Gasol hit a jumper and a three, respectively. Punter tied it at 19-19 with free throws before Adam Hanga and Gasol scored again. Punter kept Milan close with a basket-plus-foul and another 2 free throws. Mirotic's free throws gave Barcelona a 27-24 edge after one quarter. Kyle Kuric sank a runner and Gasol blocked a shot at one end and sank a three at the other. However, Kyle Hines reacted to score after his shot was blocked and Rodriguez drained a three as Milan stayed hot on Barcelona’s tail. Brandon Davies pushed Barcelona to 37-31 only to see Shields beat the shot clock with a three. Alex Abrines came to the fore with a three and a steal that resulted in a Mirotic put-back that led to an 8-point advantage. Despite free throws by Shields, Calathes scored 5 points to give his team a double-digit lead, 49-38. A pull-up jumper and free throws by Rodriguez helped Milan trim the deficit to 51-42 at halftime.
Micov knocked down a three to start the second half and Punter also connected from downtown to bring Milan within 53-50. Punter further trimmed the gap to 2 before Abrines countered with a three. However, Punter remained hot and Shields scored inside as Milan came back to grab a 57-58 lead. Punter continued firing and Rodriguez also connected from behind the arc to lift his team to 59-67. Leandro Bolmaro, Calathes and Rolands Smits helped revive the Barcelona attack with free throws and, despite a put-back by Hines, Calathes made a pull-up three that put 67-71 on the scoreboard after three quarters. Calathes started the fourth quarter with a runner-and-one before Mirotic's put-back gave Barcelona the lead. After a timeout, LeDay beat the shot clock with a three from the corner and Shields scored in transition to make it 72-76. Kuric answered with a three-point play and Bolmaro's jumper put Barcelona up 77-76 with 5 minutes remaining. Calathes went down with an apparent ankle injury and Shields scored off a steal to tie that game at 78-78. Higgins nailed a jumper and Delaney split free throws to make it 80-79 with 2 minutes remaining. Mirotic padded the lead with foul shots, but a deep three by Punter tied things at 82-82. It all came down to the final possessions; Punter missed an open look from behind the arc and Higgins raced down the floor and buried a pull-up jumper from the top of the key for an 84-82 edge with 0.8 seconds remaining. After a Milan timeout, Punter launched a deep three and Barcelona walked away victorious.
Nikola Mirotic scored 9 points in the first quarter and remained Barcelona's top offensive reference all game long to finish with 21 points and 6 rebounds for a performance index rating of 28. Mirotic drew 8 fouls and his 13 free throw attempts are tied for sixth-most at a Final Four game since the turn of the century.
Milan was best in the league with just 11.0 turnovers per game this season, but against Barcelona's tight-fisted defense Milan coughed the ball up 17 times, which was tied for its second-most all season. Coach Messina's side also struggled when it went inside; Milan had its shots blocked 6 times and was 16 for 40 (40%) on two-pointers. In contrast, Milan did not block any shots and Barcelona made 52.8% of its two-pointers.
Higgins was the hero
Cory Higgins made the game-winner with 0.8 seconds left and in doing so gave himself the chance to become the only player this season to repeat as EuroLeague champion. Higgins won the 2019 crown with CSKA Moscow. After many of his teammates from that team were eliminated in the first semifinal, two more – Sergio Rodriguez and Kyle Hines – fell victim to Barcelona. Higgins, who also scored in double figures in all five playoff games, finished with 11 points, 2 steals and 2 blocks.
Punter stepped up for Milan
To say that Kevin Punter did well in his first Final Four game is an understatement. Punter scored 11 third-quarter points in carrying Milan from a 9-point halftime deficit to an 8-point lead. He then hit a deep three with 1:45 remaining in the fourth to tie the game at 82-82. Even though he finished with a game-high 23 points, Punter will be mostly remembered for missing his last 2 shots, however, his scoring exploits before that were a major reason Milan was in it at the end.
Friday, May 28, 2021