Things did not look good for KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz before the game. Baskonia was on a three-game losing streak and had won just once in its last six games. Those five losses came by an average margin of 26.2 points, something unthinkable at the beginning of the season. Moreover, Baskonia hosted FC Barcelona, which was undefeated in the last five rounds and led by the EuroLeague's MVP for December, Nikola Mirotic.
It was just Dusko Ivanovic's second EuroLeague game this season, after a 24-point loss against ALBA Berlin hours after he arrived. Some months ago, Javi Gancedo of EuroLeague.net wrote an article about what they call "Baskonia Character" and where it came from. He spoke to former players Pablo Prigioni, Fernando San Emeterio, Joe Arlauckas, Pete Mickeal and Sergi Vidal about it and it was agreed that president Josean Querejeta, head coach Dusko Ivanovic and the club's outstanding fan base were the foundations of this character.
When the three factors reunited again, everything clicked and Baskonia played with the aggressiveness, intensity and fighting spirit that has been a trademark of the team for the last two decades. Three huge plays defined the team's character in the first half - a chase-down block by Toko Shengelia, a huge dunk by traffic also by Shengelia and a big block by Michael Eric on Ante Tomic, sending him to the floor with the ball and then taking it out of his hands.
Defense led to offense, too. Baskonia hit 14 of its first 20 shots - including 8 from downtown - and played with great focus and intensity on defense to get a 52-31 margin early in the third quarter. Baskonia made 16 of 33 three-point shots (48.5%), which was far above its percentage before this game (31.7%).
A perfect example of Baskonia's trademark character was Pierria Henry, who had his best game this season. Henry had totaled 21 points in his team's last five EuroLeague games. He finished the game with 20 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting, two of them after getting an offensive rebound and calmly going to the corner to shoot from his favorite spot. Henry had not shown that confidence throughout the season. Entering this game, he had just hit 8 of 31 shots from downtown (25.8%).
Another statistical example of Baskonia's fighting spirit? Baskonia had a PIR of 77, much less than Barcelona (88). It is the first time that Baskonia has won a game with a lower PIR than its opponent this season. In fact, Baskonia had a higher PIR in all of its previous 31 EuroLeague wins. The last time that Baskonia won a EuroLeague game with a lower PIR was against Unicaja Malaga on January 25, 2018. Unicaja won the PIR battle, 93-91, but Baskonia won the war, 83-85.
"We recovered the character that this club always had," Coach Ivanovic said after the game. "You have to give credit to the players. I have been here for three days and no one can do miracles in that time. I just made some adjustments on defense and offense, and gave them the confidence to play," he added.
Asked about how people welcomed him back, Ivanovic was honest, as always: "It was very special to come back [to Buesa Arena]. Before I got in, I was... I am a bit cold, but I was a bit emotional. Thanks to our fans, who have always been supporting this team. I felt comfortable."
Ivanovic led Baskonia to EuroLeague runner-up finishes in 2001 and 2005, lifted two of the club's three Spanish League trophies and won three Spanish Copa del Rey crowns. Baskonia now has everything that made the club equally feared and respected at the highest European level. Expect Baskonia to keep getting better under Ivanovic as the season goes on.