Pablo Laso and Xavi Pascual may come across as polar opposites when it comes to coaching philosophies, but it could be argued that the styles of Ettore Messina and David Blatt are just as different. The Italian favourite and the American underdog seem to hold contrasting views in most aspects of the game – size, pace, offensive principles, defensive flexibility and so on. This is why the less hyped of the two semifinals in Mian, between CSKA Moscow and Maccabi Tel Aviv, could be just as intriguing as the clásico that everyone has been waiting for.
Then again you wouldn’t know that judging from the two top – 16 game between the two powerhouses. CSKA destroyed Maccabi in Moscow and pulled off a gutsy win at Tel Aviv despite - or thanks to, if you are one of those people – the absence of Milos Teodosic (Maccabi were also without a key player in Devin Smith). This why the Russians should be treated as the favorites, even after two embarrassing homes losses on the eve of the final four against Lokomotiv Kuban, which had Messina exploring the depths of human nature. However, CSKA’s VTB League struggles have served as reminders about certain holes which can be exploited by Maccabi.
May 16th will mark the fourth time this season that Real Madrid face Barcelona. The stakes will be higher, the game will take place outside of Spain and a couple of injuries could alter the rotations of both teams. However, the first three versions of this season’s clásico offer plenty of material for a Euroleague semifinal preview.
Numbers indicate that the two Spanish giants find it difficult to stop each other from scoring. Madrid’s triumph against the blaugrana at the London final four was based on an inspired defensive performance in the closing minutes of the game, but the Spanish champs have not been able to reproduce it this season. Barcelona scored a little over 106 points per a hundred possessions in their three meetings with the second-best defense in Euroleague. This number could have easily been a lot more impressive had they not missed 12 free throws – not to mention a few great looks from behind the arc – at the Copa Del Rey final. The main reason for Barcelona’s success on the offensive end is their pick and roll execution:
George Rowland and sJacas discuss the Dario Šarić and Eurocup finals.
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It wasn’t competitive for forty minutes, but Game 1 between Real Madrid and Olympiacos was full of storylines: bad blood boiling over on more than one occasions, Rudy playing like an MVP, Mirotic dominating, Spanoulis putting forth a valiant effort and a barrage of three pointers from both teams defining the turning points of the game. However, in terms of Xs & Os, the first half told you almost everything you needed to know about the strengths of Madrid and certain openings that Olympiacos can’t take advantage.
Madrid had done their homework
Coming into the playoffs, Olympiacos lineups featuring Bryant Dunston at power forward were particularly prolific on offense, to the tune of more than 120 points per a hundred possessions. It’s safe to say that this number dropped somewhat after a disastrous start to the game for the champs, who were -12 with that old school formation on the floor. The American center moved to the four during the top 16, as a replacement to the injured Giorgos Printezis. Opponents were often caught off guard, allowing Dunston to dive toward the hoop from the weakside, finishing strong at the rim and pick up a few transition-initiating steals at the perimeter. Pablo Laso had apparently watched enough tape to not fall for this trick.
Here’s the problem with paradigm shifts: they are often associated with too many gray areas to neatly fit an analytical model. Take Euroleague centers. It could be argued that the omnipresence of pick and roll sets in a modern European offense has changed the way the position is played- size is less important than explosiveness and agility, footwork in the post has taken a backseat to defensive footwork. This is why undersized Olympiacos dominated inside against CSKA Moscow in last season’s final four. This is why Stephane Lasme won the Defensive Player of the Year award. This is why every Real Madrid opponent this season secretly hopes that Pablo Laso will keep playing Giannis Bouroussis over Marcus Slaughter (or maybe I’m just prejudiced against Bouroussis).