Down 21, Unicaja rallies to take opener in Berlin
Unicaja Malaga rallied from a 21-point deficit to stun ALBA Berlin 90-91 in a thriller Tuesday at
Max Schmeling Halle in the German capital. Mathias Lessort starred down the stretch with a key block on one end and the game-winning put-back slam with 2.2 seconds left. It marked the fourth time in as many EuroCup playoff series that Unicaja stole home-court advantage and now the 2017 champs will look to complete a quarterfinals sweep when they host Game 2 on Friday. Lessort finished with 18 points on near-perfect shooting, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in one of his finest games in a Unicaja uniform. Adam Waczynski matched his career-high with 17 points and Dragan Milosavljevic added 10 for Unicaja against his former team. Peyton Siva made his EuroCup return for ALBA with 14 points and 7 assists; Rokas Giedraitis, Niels Giffey and Martin Hermannsson each scored 13 and Joshiko Saibou 10. Hermannsson also dished 10 assists in the loss.
Twas a perfect start for the hosts as Siva knocked down a triple on the first possession. He added free throws and Giedraitis hit a long jumper for a 7-0 run. Waczynski's triple got Unicaja going and Giorgi Shermadini drew the visitors within 2, but Siva and Luke Sikma each hit from downtown in a 12-0 ALBA run for a commanding 21-7 advantage. Carlos Suarez ended a 3-minute Unicaja drought with a put-back, however, ALBA remained hot from deep with Giffey and Franz Wagner knocking down back-to-back triples to surge ahead by 16. Ryan Boatright's four-point play trimmed the gap to 29-17 after 10 minutes. Lessort provided a spark for Unicaja by drawing an unsportsmanlike foul after stealing a ball and then throwing down a two-handed slam to bring the visitors within 9. Siva became the game's first scorer in double figures with a pair of free throws that made it 36-24. The lead was up to 15 midway through the second quarter after a floater from Saibou. Landry Nnoko scored on the offensive glass before Johannes Thiemann pushed the lead into the 20s in the final minute of the half. Boatright free throws made it 58-39 at the break. The visitors scored the first 5 points of the second half as they looked to get back in the game. Kyle Wiltjer drained back-to-back three-pointers before Lessort scored twice in the paint. A Waczynski triple capped a 1-19 surge that brought Unicaja within 59-58. Hermannsson's layup gave ALBA its first basket of the third quarter after more than 6 minutes of action. Brian Roberts completed the Unicaja comeback with a three that tied the game at 63-63. Giffey answered from behind the arc to put ALBA back ahead and his dunk made it 70-66 at the end of the quarter. Sasu Salin started the fourth quarter with a triple and soon Milosavljevic gave Unicaja its first lead of the game, 72-74. Hermannsson's first three of the game returned the lead to ALBA, 77-76. The lead switched hands twice more. Unicaja led by as many as 4 – twice, but Saibou answered each time. The ALBA guard came up with a key steal that led to a Giffey three and an 88-84 lead with 2 minutes to play. Sikma capped a 10-0 run that all but sealed a home team win. However, Lessort scored from the line and Wiltjer fielded his own missed free throw and scored to make it 90-89 in the final minute. Lessort took charge with a block on one end and a put-back slam of a missed Brian Roberts three with 2.2 seconds to go that secured the win.
Although the game was not decided until the closing seconds, it would not have been relevant if not for Unicaja's 1-19 run that erased nearly all of ALBA's 19-point halftime lead. Kyle Wiltjer scored 6 points and Mathias Lessort 5 in the run that brought Unicaja back.
Unicaja had one of the greatest two-point shooting games in EuroCup history, making 18 of 22 such shots. Its 81.82% conversation rate was a club record, the best by any team in a EuroCup playoff game and the fourth-highest in any EuroCup game. Seven different Unicaja players made two-point baskets; Mathias Lessort was perfect on 6 two-point shots and Adam Waczynski did not miss any of his 4.
Eight different Unicaja players scored at least 8 points in a balanced attack and all of them were needed! Brian Roberts delivered 7 assists which were as important as his 9 points. Kyle Wiltjer (9 points) not only played a big role in the big third-quarter run, but his put-back in the final minute drew Unicaja within 1. Carlos Suarez (9 points) had a fourth-quarter triple that gave Unicaja its biggest lead (77-81). Ryan Boatright (8 points) scored the last points of both the first and second quarter to keep Unicaja from falling too far behind. And Giorgi Shermadini 98 points) partnered with Mathias Lessort to make the ALBA big men were pressured for all 40 minutes.
ALBA's fantastic first half
ALBA set a club record with 58 first-half points, bettering by 1 its output against Partizan NIS Belgrade in the regular season a year ago. ALBA made 7 of 16 threes (43.8%) in the first 20 minutes, controlled the glass 19-12 and dished 17 assists, which put it on pace to set a playoff record.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019