After reaching Game 5 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs last season, FC Bayern Munich started this campaign with four consecutive losses. Bayern started the regular season with many injuries, but has been getting players back in recent weeks, even though Leon Radosevic and Paul Zipser remain sidelined. By the time star forward Vladimir Lucic came back, the team was ready to win.
Bayern proved that in its Round 6 game against AX Armani Exchange Milan. It was a rematch of last season's playoffs and an opportunity for Bayern to build on its first victory, against Zalgiris Kaunas, in Round 5. But the task would not be easy; Milan arrived at Audi Dome undefeated in both the EuroLeague and the Italian League.
The game was a back-and-forth battle. Darrun Hilliard and Othello Hunter fueled a 9-0 run that seemed to give Bayern a definitive lead, 56-47, but Milan fought back and managed to regain the lead, 66-67, on a three-point shot by Luigi Datome with over 6 minutes remaining. Coach Trinchieri called timeout, looked for a go-to guy and found him in Corey Walden.
After playing for Coach Trinchieri with Partizan NIS Belgrade in the 2019-20 season, Walden was ready to lead the team in crunch time. He hit free throws and buried back-to-back three-point shots in a 10-0 run that put Bayern ahead for good, 76-67. It was the turning point of a thrilling, intense showdown. Milan kept fighting, but never got within striking distance again.
"That's hard basketball right there. We showed some grit, some toughness, and were able to get it done," Walden said after the game. "Our defense and making plays towards the end [were the key factors], players just stepping up and making big shots at the end, just showing toughness."
Coach Trinchieri spoke about his approach to the game, which was to avoid certain players in the paint.
"When they play [Nicolo] Melli and [Kyle] Hines together, I believe they have the two smartest bigs on defense in the entire EuroLeague, so you have to stay away from them because they cover, they switch, they are big, and are able to read the situations," Trinchieri said. "I believe that we had a team offense but we only had 9 assists. You can say 'ah, they played bad offense.' No! We played the only possible offense to win the game."
Lucic also had a fantastic performance, leading his team with 20 points on 8-of-8 free-throw shooting. Bayern was near-perfect as a team from the foul line - 23-of-24, 95.8%. Milan missed 7 attempts out of 25 (72.0% FT). Lucic credited his teammates for this win.
"Defensively, we did pretty good the tactical things, stopping their main players. Three-four guys sacrificed their bodies and maybe their offensive part of the game. They did a great job defending first of all Rodriguez, but also their big guys," he said.
Bayern is undefeated with Lucic back in its lineup and will look for a third consecutive victory in the German derby against ALBA Berlin. Meanwhile, Milan needs to regroup and bounce back when it faces Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade at Mediolanum Forum on Thursday.