The Sad Story of Darüşşafaka Leapfrogging Crvena Zvezda in Round 30

Can you win a modern EuroLeague game shooting 1/16 on three-pointers? Probably not, you tell me? You would be right. I bring this up because Crvena Zvezda, who did indeed shoot 1/16 facing Darüşşafaka in Turkey for the last playoff spot of this Euroleague season, will have the open threes they missed in mind for as long as they can stand to think about their European campaign. Even if the total number of misses is a little inflated by the streaky panic-shooting from Simonović at a time when the game was almost already decided, the story of this game for the Serbs was all about trying to survive despite horrific shooting, and trying to stop Darüşşafaka despite facing a team with a budget they couldn’t have even in their wildest Serbian basketball dreams.

Daçka passing the ball, Žižić layup

Daçka passing the ball, Žižić layup

The problem with Blatt’s roster for most of the season was not the level of talent, but the degree of togetherness, that old chemistry problem. So many times we’ve seen them playing selfish basketball, so many times it seemed nobody cared about making his teammates better. For some reason, Darüşşafaka was able to unlock some teamwork on Friday. The first quarter especially featured an effort nobody really expected — solid team defense, some kind of ball movement, and a few transition plays — all led by impressive contributions from Wannamaker and Clyburn. This led to an 11 point advantage after a first quarter in which they had scored 25 points, a total Zvezda certainly couldn’t cope with, or at least not with Jović in street clothes. Blatt’s gamble of giving-up any/all pull-up (often off of screen-and-rolls) long-twos to Zvezda’s point guards was the right one. It limited the efficiency of the Red Star pick-and-roll, and thus killed all creation and ball movement. Meanwhile the first few Red Star attempts from three-point range (only six at the half) had their confidence vanishing.

Branko Lazić ball pressure and steal

Branko Lazić ball pressure and steal

The only path forward for Zvezda was to kill the rhythm of the game and hope for as low-scoring a game as possible. To get into an “all-defensive” matchup, Radonjić went back to a gameplan that once was their strength — blitzing the pick-and-roll, and being as aggressive as possible on the perimeter. Despite leaving a few offensive rebounds to their opponent, the tactic worked in a third quarter in which Red Star limited Blatt’s team to only 12 points, being at one point only down by three (52-49). But even when coming back, Crvena Zvezda’s offense never really had any impact on the game. No three-point barrage or change of pace helped them come back — only tough basketball was to played, and Blatt’s offense did cool off for a moment.

But the fourth quarter ended up being a totally different story, with Blatt pushing the two main advantages he had at this point on Radonjiić: rebounding (winning the category by 11 to four in this last period) and team budget. These two options materialized via the contribution of Ante Žižić, he had four points and three huge offensive rebounds (one of them should have counted for at least three by itself — in the period, while also keeping Kuzmić under control in the clutch (he made only two free throws and had to play under the threat of a fifth foul). The presence of the Croatian Kid in the paint proved to be too much to handle for a Zvezda team that would soon completely lose control of the game. And here lies the difference between the teams — one, disappointing yet rich, was able to make the most useful in-season acquisition in the whole competition…the other never had the depth to survive after losing their best player in Stefan Jović, and at the very worst moment of the season. Such a recap won’t make Darüşşafaka any more lovable, even as underdogs against Real Madrid. Even worse, this playoff spot probably means they’ll be here again next year, looking for the kind of thing that money just can’t buy…

About The Author

Pierre tries to be a true French basketball fan by following the Boris Diaw way of life: never watch a game without coffee or a glass of red wine. The rest of his life is about studying labour law, and understanding how so many players in Europe can't get paid on time when there are so many laws and courts saying it's wrong.

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