LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne arrived at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall on a three-game winning streak, led by its star guard duo of Elie Okobo and Chris Jones. Its opponent, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, had signed playmaker Stefan Markovic, who was not registered in time to play the game. On the other hand, combo guard Nikola Ivanovic had recovered from COVID-19 after being isolated for three weeks, during which he missed four EuroLeague games.
It was Ivanovic's first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague home game at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall, formerly known as Hala Pionir. Ivanovic played the first four games of the season, but three of them were on the road and the other was played at Stark Arena. Ivanovic, inspired by Pionir's atmosphere, led Zvezda to an important 73-67 victory.
Ivanovic finished the game with 14 points on 3-of-5 shooting from downtown plus 5 assists, 2 steals and 5 fouls drawn for a PIR of 18, and had a stellar role in the second half, feeding off the crowd's energy. He buried his first shot from downtown after coming off the bench in the first quarter and provided one of the biggest highlights in the game, feeding Austin Hollins for a buzzer-beating alley-oop layup that gave their team an 18-9 lead.
He provided more highlights during the game, sending an outstanding bounce bass to Ognjen Dobric for a fastbreak slam midway through the third quarter. Ivanovic made the difference in the game early in the fourth quarter with a driving layup, a steal that allowed Hollins to dunk, an assist to Marko Simonovic for a three-pointer, and a couple of bombs from downtown that boosted Zvezda's lead 65-50 with 4 minutes remaining.
"We did, I think, an excellent job. We pushed ourselves and made that extra effort to win the game," Ivanovic said after the game. "Honestly, it feels great to be back. It is really hard when you are on the sidelines and watch the games on TV and you are not able to help, but it just feels good to be back, especially when it is my first game in front of our home crowd [at Pionir]. It is a nice feeling."
ASVEL rallied later, but the hosts' victory was not in danger. Despite getting within 70-67, Nikola Kalinic hit the game-clinching free throws with 8.8 seconds left. Kalinic lived up to the expectations as the team's leader, finishing the game with a season-high 22 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 8 fouls drawn for a PIR of 27. After the game, Kalinic pointed out his team's effort.
"Amazing job by the guys this night," Kalinic said. "We are playing fair basketball and we are putting a lot of ourselves into it. I think we are playing honest, tough basketball, tough defense, trying to play the best we can. Congratulations to our guys also and to the coaching staff."