Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade struggled to open this season, went through coaching changes, and had just two wins through nine regular-season rounds. Things look very different and much more promising now after Zvezda went on the road to beat AX Armani Exchange Milan 67-77 on Thursday for its third consecutive win.
What looks even better than its suddenly improved record is Zvezda's defense, which bothered Milan's dangerous offense despite the visitors missing one of the EuroLeague's best defenders, team captain Branko Lazic.
Zvezda's defense was consistent for all 40 minutes, holding Milan to fewer than 70 points for the first time since the season opener. The key was on the perimeter, where Zvezda had 2 of its 6 blocks, tying a club record. Milan entered this game shooting a league-high 42.9% from long range and making 10.1 triples per game. However, Zvezda's did not allow a triple for almost 14 minutes to open the game. Milan was held to 3-for-16 shooting from downtown in the first half and just 7-for-30 (23.3%) from three-point range for the night.
Also, Zvezda stepped it up when it mattered most. After Milan got within 63-67 late in the fourth quarter, the visitors did not allow a single field goal over the last 3:24 of the game.
"We played some great defense," Billy Baron pointed out after the game. He had 17 points, but all he did was praise the defense, especially in those last minutes to pull out the victory. "We just kept our man in front of us. Everything they shot was a contested shot and then we made our shots on our end and it kind of put the pressure on them. We finished the game on defense, we won the game on defense, and hit a couple shots there to put the game away."
Put the game away they did and with excellent, physical defense and booming confidence, Zvezda looks like a team to keep an eye on as we enter the second third of the regular season.