The Euroleague top-16 has finally begun, and in honesty, there wasn’t much to shout about. The first week brought an end to home dominance, an upset (of sorts), and a statement-of-intent. The rest pretty much laid down and did what they were supposed to do.
So, what I have done in this monthly-ish blog is I have put the first week of the second round of Euroleague games into the aforementioned categories, and put in my two cents worth, just for good measure. Word of warning: this will be a long and bulky read.
Regal FC Barcelona 81-71 Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv:
After a sub-par preliminary round – the holders, Barcelona came through their group with seven wins and three defeats, having only lost two games throughout their successful Euroleague campaign last season. Some critics were questioning the recent performances, which included a shock away defeat to Lietuvos Rytas, although there is no shame in losing to a team that had Sarunas Jasikevicius on the roster.
Maccabi on the other-hand have enjoyed the best record in the preliminaries – and, after losing their first game, away to Caja Laboral, the Israeli giants went on to top the group winning nine straight games. Before this tournament even began, people were predicting that these two heavyweights would be contesting the final at the Palau Saint-Jordi in early-May – we got a glimpse of what could happen in January.
This game showcased the Catalan giants at their best, against a strong visiting force that had no choice but to be second best on the night. Barcelona finally looked and played like champions. Juan Carlos Navarro exploding for 24 points on 50% three-point shooting (5/10) and Alan Anderson, playing against his former club, chipped in with 16 in his first game in the famous red and blue stripes of Barca.
What struck me about Barcelona’s return to life, as it were, was that they never lost their composure throughout. Make no mistake, Maccabi are no mugs, and they came to play. Paced by Doron Perkins’ 13 points and Richard Hendrix matching that off the bench, Maccabi came strong – but the hosts would not be denied, and finished the match strong to claim a morale-boosting victory. No doubt, sending a message that Barcelona is still alive.
An end to home dominance
Olympiacos 70-84 Fenerbahce Ulker:
At home, Olympiacos were unbeaten in 20 Euroleague games – you have to go back to the 2008/09 regular season, when they lost to French side, Le Mans for their last loss at home. Enter: Fenerbahce Ulker.
Fenerbahce have enjoyed a 7-3 record, which included a road win in Barcelona, which is rare for most journalists to write – but it happened – and it certainly put the rest of Europe on guard. They entered the Top-16 full of confidence. Game one: Olympiacos, away.
In fairness, this was a game that Olympiacos will feel that they threw away, as the Turks blitzed the hosts in the final stanza, leaving Theo Papaloukas, Milos Teodosic and Vassilis Spanoulis shell-shocked. Not taking anything away from Fenerbahce, but Olympiacos’ fourth quarter performance was just awful. You would never have guessed that they were the same side playing in the first three periods. The team that led for stages of the game – and kept the game close for the majority of it.
The Turks have Croatian double-act, Marko Tomas and Roko Leni-Ukic to thank for the win. The two players played sublime roles as the duo hit 19 and 17 points respectively. Nicely supported by Turkey’s World Championship hero, Omar Onan, who hit 14.
Another point to make, Fenerbahce made eight of their ten three-point attempts – using their shots wisely. The hosts: 7-from-24, yikes…
The upset (of sorts)
Lottomatica Roma 63-64 Union Olimpija Ljubljana:
Has anyone out there explained to Union Olimpija how the Euroleague is meant to be this year?
No. Obviously they haven’t read the script then.
In the numerous phone conversations I’ve enjoyed with TalkBasket’s Euroleague analyst, Jack Majewski, we’ve spoken about Union Olimpija, and how they are making the Euroleague so much more exciting this year, like the Asseco Prokom from last season – and it seems that the Slovenian bandwagon just keeps on rollin.’
I will admit this openly, I am not expecting Union to make much noise in the second round. Maybe get some wins at home, but fall short. Ljubljana then travel to the Italian capital and with a minute to go are down 63-58. Legendary Slovenian coach, Jure Zdovc calls a timeout. Then with eight seconds left, ex-Cheshire Jet, Kenny Gregory hits two free-throws to give the visitors a 64-63 lead and with that, complete a back-from-the-dead 6-0 run to win the game.
I jumped out of my seat, I’ll admit it.
For Lottomatica, I’ll admit, I am a little surprised that they lost this one, hence the title. But I know others would disagree on this, hence the sub-title: of sorts. If they want to advance from this group of death that they are in – then they need to win these games. Because, let’s face it, they have a daunting trip to the Nokia Arena to face Maccabi, then a double-header with Barcelona up next. I’m not holding much hope for them, to be honest.
Plus, I see Union Olimpija beating Roma in Ljubljana. But for now, I’m letting the good people in the Slovenian capital have their moment, for the underdog basketball fan, let’s hope it continues.
…And the rest
Lietuvos Rytas 59-80 Panathinaikos:
Comfortable win for Panathinaikos against a Lietuvos side who will struggle to make the quarter-final stage. As for the Greens. They should be comfortable in this group.
Unicaja Malaga 71-76 Caja Laboral:
Marcelo Huertas is one of my favourite Euroleague players and showed it here in an all-ACB clash. The Brazilian international ending with 19 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds, doing the damage against Joel Freeland’s Unicaja. The Great Britain international poured in 16 points in vain. Look for Caja Laboral to advance with Panathinaikos in Group E. If not? There is an upset somewhere.
Efes Pilsen 60-58 Montepaschi Siena:
Bostjan Nachbar’s one-handed jam was the highlight of this game. The visitors will be kicking themselves for missing not one, but two chances to win the game, or at least send it to overtime. Efes definitely deserved to come away with the win here.
Real Madrid 78-58 Partizan:
A case of Partizan not showing up or Real Madrid showcasing their top form? Either way, the hosts used a 26-9 second period to dispose of last year’s Final Four semi-finalists. From then- on, it was a breeze for the ACB side.
Power Electronics Valencia 73-59 Zalgiris:
Comfortable win for Valencia against a poor Zalgiris side. I’m afraid for the visitors; there will be more to come.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net
Follow John on Twitter @johnswisshobbs