Games within games part II
LONDON (Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's Champions League Insider) - The first round of the Play-Offs was intense. We saw Manny Harris put up huge numbers and Kevin Punter hit the shot of the year, as AEK broke yet more hearts against CEZ Nymburk. We also saw the comeback of the year in Strasbourg, as SIG dragged themselves out of a huge hole vs Neptunas. But the story that caught my eye above all of those, was the way UCAM Murcia defied the odds, to knock the reigning champions off-beat and out of the competition.
Augusto Lima was huge for UCAM Murcia in the Canaries
After Gameday ten, I wrote about the way Sidigas Avellino and UCAM Murcia, adjusted in-game, to collect crucial wins in the race for the Play-Offs. UCAM Murcia and their coach Ibon Navarro, did it again in the Round of 16. Iberostar Tenerife were rolling. They cruised into the knockouts and were looking ominously similar to last season - Top five for Offensive Rating AND Defensive Rating. Pass-first, multi-skilled and versatile offensively. Aggressive on-ball defensively and in Mike Tobey, they have one of the best, if not the best rebounder in the competition. To add to all this, they had been imperious against UCAM Murcia all season in the ACB. Nobody was shocked when they came out of Murcia with a 71-66 win in game one. Murcia had never won in Tenerife and now had to do so by six points or more. The Champions had a size thirteen boot, firmly wedged in the door already.
The fascinating thing about the two leg format, is the opportunity for coaches to make telling, tactical adjustments. Any more than two games, each team has the opportunity for counter-adjustments - in this format, each team knows their opponent will want to throw something different at them. But what will that change be and how can they adapt to it, in the moment?
Sadiel Rojas - ready to do what it takes to win
The first thing to mention before talking specifics about coaches and tactics, is that it's still a players game. X's and O's can steer the wheel but Brad Oleson roasting Tenerife in the first quarter of game two and going 5/5 from deep, was certainly the fuel in the engine for Murcia. Kevin Tumba back in the rotation was extremely helpful too. The big Belgian didn't play game one. His ability to switch and contain Tenerife's guards in game two, may not show in the box score but his impact was profound. More than that, the application of well timed and well executed switches, was Murcia's major catalyst for change in this tie.
The best way to demonstrate how Murcia's application of switches changed this tie, is to contrast clips of Tenerife running the same set in both games. Watch this clip of Tenerife running their 'Shuffle Cut' action in game one. The play starts with Javier Beiran reversing the ball, then on the next swing, Beiran receives a back screen from Vasileiadis and makes the shuffle cut. Rojas gets caught in the screen and Beiran gets an early lay up.
Same set again in the 2nd quarter, with the same players involved. This time Rojas fights through and doesn't allow himself to get screened. Job done for Rojas...... but the problem is that by fighting through, now there is no space for Urtasun to be in the correct position to guard Vasileiadis. The Greek veteran recognizes and sprints off a screen-the-screener from Vazquez, for a wide open 3. Classic Iberostar Tenerife execution.
Whilst this is only one set and two of the options that Tenerife can run from it, the confidence gained from it's smooth execution, builds rhythm and flow. Finding a way to break that flow, has always been the key to stopping Tenerife. And that's exactly what Coach Navarro charged his players to do in the second leg. Watch this clip in game two - Murcia defend the same action, this time by expertly switching twice, to take away both options. Davin White sets the back screen for Beiran to make the shuffle cut. Instead of trying to fight through, Murcia bump cutters, then switch Tumba onto Beiran and Rojas onto Mike Tobey. When you switch like this, you are goading your opponent into attacking the mismatch and that's exactly the trap Tenerife fall into. They hunt the post catch but the result is four players standing still, as they try to force a pass that Rojas fights hard to pick off (warrior).
The great thing about this adjustment from Navarro is that it also negates the screen-the-screener option. This next clip is the same set on the other side of the floor (4th Quarter). Now it's Akognon setting the back screen for Ponitka and Lima switching onto the shuffle cut. Look closely at how Oleson is already in position to jump through and take away the shot for Akognon. Tenerife fall into the same trap again and force it into Vazquez in the post. Four players stand still again - watching. All of Tenerife's rhythm and flow - broken. Credit also goes to Vitor Benite here. Look at the way he waits for Vazquez to commit to going in one direction and uses his speed advantage to control the angle. Excellent defense, from the scheme through to the execution.
The small to big mismatch didn't work for Tenerife either. Tumba switches onto Ponitka in this clip. You are watching the same set but a curl instead of a shuffle cut. Tumba uses his length and foot speed to stay in front and contest. There is a long list of guards in the Basketball Champions League, that have been burnt by Ponitka in very similar scenarios.
There were numerous other clips where Murcia switched effectively - either late-clock pick-and-roll, or off-ball screens. Almost every time, the outcome was positive for UCAM Murcia. Watch the game back and you can hear Iberostar Tenerife second guess themselves in time outs. They had no answer to the switches Murcia were throwing at them. No doubt a team of this caliber would have found a counter if there was a 3rd game - but there wasn't and that's the beauty of this format.
Up next for Murcia is Pinar Karsiyaka, with their triple threat of MVP candidates and stockpile of 'home-grown' talent. Karsiyaka love to test match ups too. They will just as easily throw DJ Kennedy in the post, as they will have Jarrod Jones on the perimeter, shooting 3's. Switching may not be the answer to that conundrum but we have already seen enough nouse from Ibon Navarro, to suggest he will have something up his sleeve. We don't have to wait long to find out either.
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