Thirteen months ago to the day, on December 11, 2020, AX Armani Exchange Milan guard Malcolm Delaney walked out of Palau Blaugrana, a place he had played some of his best basketball, with a crushing defeat in his first game back against his former team. On Tuesday, Delaney made sure things went differently.
“We were in the same situation here last year and then they went on a... 21-0 run,” Delaney recalled.
Indeed, Delaney free throws made it 64-69 with 5:02 remaining in the fourth quarter before the likes of Brandon Davies, Cory Higgins and Nikola Mirotic led Barcelona on a run of 21 straight points to take charge and win the game.
Delaney scored 23 points that night, but it wasn’t what he remembered. So he arrived back with a plan.
“We’ve been having a lot of players recover from COVID, some injuries, so we just wanted to keep it close and then in the fourth quarter try to make a push,” he said after the game.
Not only is that what happened, but Delaney was the man leading the push. He dished 1 assist and made 3 three-pointers in the fourth quarter on Tuesday and each play was bigger than the previous one.
Delaney fed Kyle Hines to tie the game at 56-56 with 6:30 remaining. After Kyle Kuric gave Barcelona the lead, Delaney stepped up with a go-ahead three-pointer. His next shot was another go-ahead three to make it 63-65 with 3:16 to play. Finally, with the game on the line – Milan up by 1 but knowing Barcelona would get the ball back – Delaney hit a three with 12 seconds to go to give his team a two-possession lead.
The Milan guard has a long history of big games in Barcelona. Delaney had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists to help Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar to an 80-92 overtime victory at Palau Blaugrana in Game 4 of the 2016 playoffs, a series his team eventually won to get to the Final Four for the first time in club history.
The next time he was in Barcelona was when he signed for the club for the 2019-20 season. Delaney’s best game that season was a 26-point, 9-assist performance against... Milan. And last season he was rolling en route to victory when it all came crashing down late.
What Delaney meant to his team’s victory was much more than those fourth-quarter plays, as Coach Ettore Messina reiterated after the game, saying: “Malcolm made some terrific plays not only in crunch time, but also to help us come back in the game.”
It’s no coincidence that Milan is at its best with a healthy Milan. The team is 8-3 with him in the lineup and was 5-3 in the games he missed. His leadership and confidence are critical pieces for the team and as he showed again on Tuesday, Delaney can be counted on in crunch time.