Tactical Breakdown - AEK find a way, again
ATHENS (Basketball Champions League) - Another day, another drama for AEK in the OAKA. Also, another opponent that played every tactical card they had. There was so much going on in this game, you could re-watch it ten times and still possibly miss plenty. Small details from previous plays, that were creating a snowball effect on the players' cognitive load and different reads and missed assignments that were occupying every coaching decision.
Coming into the game, the contest looked like it was hinged on the frame of UCAM Murcia on the offensive glass and AEK's individual scorers. If either team could find a way to minimize the other's strengths, their percentages increased dramatically. Neither team did. UCAM Murcia collected 44 rebounds - including 15 offensive rebounds! - and Manny Harris, Kevin Punter and Dusan Sakota combined for 51 of AEK 77 Points. Ovie Soko collecting 8 Rebounds and Sadiel Rojas with 12! The usual suspects....
The margins in this game were huge in some areas and minute in others. UCAM Murcia won the rebounding battle 44 to 32 but shot 39.7% compared to 47.2%. In the second half especially, Murcia's rebounding should potentially have been decisive. Any time you have an Offensive Rebounding % of 42% for 2Q's, you have to like your chances. As a result Murcia were able to take 63 shots in the game compared to 53 shot attempts for the hosts. The issue for Murcia, was that in the same second half period, they shot an Effective Field Goal % of just 47%.
The net result, being that the two teams made an identical 25 shots for the game. AEK shot 6 more FT's as you would expect in a home atmosphere like that. AEK's bench was huge (possibly decisive too), outscoring the Spaniards 41 to 23 - we will look at why later. The Greeks also shot 6% better from behind the arc. But when you counter balance everything, the statistical difference was negligible. To show how negligible, you just need to look at the two teams' Points Per Possession (PPP); AEK scored 1.04PPP, UCAM Murcia 1.02PPP. We are talking about the difference of less than a jump-ball.
Murcia started the game with Brad Oleson on Manny Harris and Delroy James guarding Ovie Soko - but on the very first possession, Clevin Hannah left Mike Green to double Manny Harris late in the shot clock. As you can imagine that wasn't the only double team that went at Harris or Punter.
Murcia also, as expected, seemed happy to switch in places, with the idea that shooting a pull-up jumper over Kevin Tumba or Ovie Soko might cause Harris and Punter issues.
On the other end, AEK put Larentzakis on Brad Oleson, with the clear instruction to face-guard and keep him off the 3-Point line. Mike Green picked up Clevin Hannah and early on in the game, AEK seemed happy to let Delroy James play Ovie Soko straight-up with no double teams. The first few possessions of the game Murcia seemed determined to exploit that match-up. Watch them set some unorthodox screens on the low-post and try to go to Soko going early. On both occasions, Delroy James was up to the task
For all the star players on both teams, it was the home-grown players that did the damage. If you followed the live-feed, you'd have picked up during the game, that AEK's bench were outstanding. Having a player like Dusan Sakota coming off the bench clearly helps your bench production. The match-up with Ovie Soko was huge, both players picking up costly fouls in the physical battle. However, the most telling contribution was from fairly unexpected sources. Xanthopoulos and Mavroeidis were outstanding.
Must be the home-cooking: @aekbcgr only had 5 players in + of +/- stat: Xanthopoulos +15,— Igor Curkovic (@IgorCurkovic) May 5, 2018
Xanthopoulos, Mavroeidis, Vasilopoulos all born in Maroussi (where OAKA is), even Sakota grew up here #BasketballCL #FinalFour
In the post-game presser, Dragan Sakota spoke about the challenges that Murcia presented with their shooters running off screens.
"The way they play is not good for us, they run a lot, they run a lot of elevators and screens off-ball. It was not easy for us to play and adjust." - Dragan Sakota
Adjust they did. Murcia were only 6/20 from deep in the game and three of those were from Vitor Benite. Brad Oleson, Clevin Hannah and Sadiel Rojas, were a combined 3/10 from behind the arc. The objective was clear, chase them around everything. AEK knew who they were going to allow to get shots off and who they weren't - AEK had clearly decided that Charlon Kloof was a guy that they would allow to shoot.
Watch this clip and look at the way Larentzakis 'Top Locks' on Oleson and chases him through the screen. Then in the same position, Harris chases Hannah over the pick-and-roll, with Vince Hunter drop covering in the paint, to be in position to box out and limit offensive rebounds.
Then contrast that, with the way they went under every screen on Kloof. The screeners man always dropped to protect the paint and be in position for rebounds but at times AEK were happy to go under, even if the screen was in the paint.
Murcia got themselves into several holes and it took every adjustment in Ibon Navarro's playbook (and Vitor Benite playing out of his mind), to keep them in shooting distance. Maybe the most effective adjustment was the gamble to use a zone defense. Murcia didn't go to the zone often but it worked every time. It wasn't just a scarecrow zone either. In the second clip below, with the shot clock at 9 secs, Murcia switch back into a man-to-man as Punter cuts into the lane. Listen carefully and you can hear Ibon Navarro shouting "Match-up, match-up".
For all of AEK's defensive scheming, it's impossible to take away everything. Especially when there are guys like Vitor Benite to take into account. Murcia's captain took things into his own hands at times and Murcia executed some beautiful offense off the back of his hot-streak. Their excellent spacing was highlighted by the camera angle in this clip. Watch how Xanthopoulos helps off Kloof, leaving Manny Harris with a decision between Kloof and Rojas (his man). He tries to play both and Rojas cuts backdoor for the lay-up. Outstanding execution in a pressure situation from the Spaniards.
Then again in the clip below, the spacing and movement was illustrated perfectly by the camera angle - this time noticed by Luka Bassin, who coached with Petro Olimpija in the Basketball Champions League this season. With Murcia in a small-ball line-up due to foul trouble, the concept of Brad Oleson dribbling the ball into the post to create the split action, is super-inventive.
#XsOs of the day 🎥 > UCAM Murcia double choice (hammer or screen away) in yesterday's F4 semifinal of @BasketballCL pic.twitter.com/P0ELoswnMs— Luka Bassin #🏀 (@LukaBassin) May 5, 2018
AEK may be known for their 1v1 scorers but they also executed some ingenious offensive actions. Xanthopoulos was scoreless but ran the show. 7 Assists and some exquisite passing off either hand. This 'Hammer' set from Dragan Sakota is extremly difficult to guard - especially with Dusan Sakota setting the back screen on the weak-side - Antelo will have been instructed not to leave him and help. Just watch and enjoy the hook pass from Xanthopoulos.
It would be possible to write an entire breakdown on the game-management in the final minutes of this game. Suffice to say, AEK found a way to win, yet again - but you have to credit Murcia for the steals, the downright stubborness and the refusal to lose down the stretch. The last five minutes of this game is definitely one to go back into livebasketball.tv and watch again. It's almost impossible to say if any tactical adjustment or piece of execution was the primary factor in winning this game.
The only thing you can say for certain is that despite AEK taking away Oleson and Hannah in the second half, Benite stepped up and kept them in the game. For AEK, it was about the local heroes. Xanthopoulos and Mavroeidis did the dirty work on the defensive end and made contributions offensively that Murcia simply couldn't have planned for. Mavroeidis was in position for every help and box. Xanthopoulos used every ounce of his basketball IQ to pick apart Murcia - at the right moments in the game as well.
AS Monaco. Firstly, read our game preview for the back story and the stats going into the game. Then read the breakdown of the Monaco vs Ludwigsburg game to understand the tactics that Monaco used to make the final. The coaches from both teams have spoke about how little preparation they have done for each other's teams. There will be some truth in that but don't believe everything they say.
Practices yesterday will have been shootaround and walk-through at most but the coaching staff will have been watching countless hours of film on each other. Will AEK decide to go under screens on Aaron Craft like they did with Charlon Kloof? Will Mavroeidis start on Elemedin Kikanovic? Possibly. You can also expect to see Monaco throw a multitude of different people at Manny Harris and Kevin Punter. Aaron Craft on Manny Harris is possibly the match-up of the tournament. You can also expect to see Mike Green try to take DJ Cooper in the post as he did with Clevin Hannah. In truth there is a million things to look out for. Just make sure you enjoy the game.
In a Final, analysis is almost redundant. It's about managing the emotion and who handles the moment. Don't overthink this one, jump on board and watch the ride.