FC Bayern Munich has been finding different heroes to win games all season in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. It was Vladimir Lucic's time to shine in giving Bayern its first-ever playoffs victory in Game 3 of its series with AX Armani Exchange Milan earlier this week. In Game 4, one might suspect that Paul Zipser was wearing a Superman-like letter "Z" under his Bayern jersey as he came up big when his team needed him most.
Bayern rallied from 13 points down early in the second half and Zipser was a big reason for that, scoring 16 points in the final 16:27 minutes of the German team's 85-82 home victory over Milan to force Game 5 back in Italy next Tuesday.
"It's the story of our season. We like to win comebacks, I guess. It didn't look well in the first half for us, but we just kept our composure. We stayed in it. We had a few players out of the game, but we were just mentally strong to come back like that," Zipser said afterward, doing his best mild-mannered Clark Kent imitation.
Bayern's defense completely failed them in the second quarter, allowing 31 Milan points as the guests wrestled control of the game. Munich picked up its defense in the second half and while the team did score 40 points in the first half – trailing 40-50 at the break – Zipser came off the bench to provide an offensive spark.
His first points came with Bayern down 46-57. He drove hard to the basket and dunked over two Milan defenders, completing the three-point play and giving Bayern a real shot of emotion. Zipser added a jumper on the next possession and drained a three-pointer later in the quarter to help Bayern get back within 61-66.
Zipser made sure Bayern had the momentum early in the final frame with a triple on the home side's first possession. He followed that with one of the dunks of the season, paying no mind to Kyle Hines's reputation as a defender and posterizing the two-time EuroLeague best defender to make it 73-75 just inside the seven-minute mark. Zipser added another triple – a tough shot over his defender – and Bayern was within 76-77 with under 5 minutes to play.
Zipser mentioned being mentally strong in the game and that was necessary as the 27-year-old blocked out any physical fatigue of playing the full 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. He helped the Bayern defense hold Milan's offense to just 1 made field goal over 7 minutes.
But Milan still led 80-82 with 66 seconds left after a Malcolm Delaney layup. After a Bayern turnover, Delaney missed his own chance of being the hero with a missed layup and Zipser was there to grab the rebound and race out in transition.
Zipser's push forward immediately created a two-on-one advantage with Vladimir Lucic running hard down the right side and Shavon Shields the only Milan man back. Lucic put his finger up and Zipser was still outside the three-point line when he tossed the ball up towards the rim. Shields was just a split-second late in rising up to challenge as Lucic caught the alley-oop pass and threw it down to tie the game. Lucic then completed the three-point play with 23 seconds left and Bayern was up 83-82. James Gist drew a huge offensive foul on Shields on the next possession and Lucic followed with two ice-cold free throws for the 85-82 scoreline with 8.3 seconds to play. But Zipser had one more act in his Superman imitation.
Milan had a chance to tie the game on the inbounds play after Lucic's free throws and Zipser was slowed on a pick to free up Luigi Datome for a triple attempt. Zipser managed to close quickly enough to disrupt Datome while also avoiding any contact and the shot was off target and Bayern grabbed the win.
Bayern head coach Andrea Trinchieri talked afterward about what made the difference and talked about big plays – specifically bringing up the late Zipser-Lucic hook-up.
"When you make big plays, usually you win. I believe that when you make a comeback and go up one with an alley-oop with 23.8 seconds to go, it means that either you're totally crazy or you're really special."
Let's go with really special – while hiding that Superman-like "Z" under your jersey.