Segafredo Virtus Bologna vs Brose Bamberg - Tactical Breakdown
ANTWERP (Belgium) - The first thing to notice tactically about this game was the starting lineups. Virtus moved Moreira into the starting five (possibly to counter the mobility of Rubit in Bamberg's first unit). At the same time, Rubit came out of Freak City's starting five, with the youngster Louis Olinde coming in. We can't know for sure the reason for either coach changing their starting units, but it certainly looked like the chess pieces were moving from the opening tip.
Making a statement with first possession post-ups has become a theme in the BCL - especially in the Final Four. Last season we saw AEK make a statement by posting up Mike Green in the Final. This Semi-Final continued the trend as both teams went to the post early. Bamberg had gone to Cliff Alexander in the first play of the Quarter-Finals vs AEK as a way of attacking Vince Hunter, and they went straight to him again. When Bologna returned the favor by picking Kelvin Martin to attack Nikos Zisis in the post early, we knew the games had really begun. As it happened, neither team did much more than reveal their mindset. Both came up empty-handed.
For Virtus, defense has been the calling card since Sasa Djordjevic took over, and holding Bamberg to 11 points in the first quarter was up there with the best defensive starts we have seen in a BCL Final Four. On the offensive end, they also quickly showed us they were in a groove. The set in the clip below was designed to force a switch and mismatch. It was executed perfectly. First, you see Moreira set a "Ghost" screen and slip into a down screen for Punter. As soon as Punter catches it, Moreira arrives instantly to set the ball screen. Alexander struggles to keep up with Moriera and Bamberg are forced into a switch. The outcome of that switch is Bamberg scrambling defensively on the post entry and Virtus punish them. Watch the cut from M'Baye in the corner to draw help and create an open 3-ball for Taylor.
Despite the 11 point sum at the end of the first quarter, Bamberg also started well offensively in the opening exchanges. Another early Alexander post up drew a second foul from Moreira and sent him to the bench. Then from the baseline out of bounds, Zisis did Zisis things and threw this lob to Cliff Alexander (who did Alexander things with a ridiculous one-hand catch and throw down):
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Watch that clip again and notice the way Kevin Punter went under the ball screen for Zisis. Bologna have been super aggressive fighting over ball screens in the last two rounds of the Play-Offs, and even though Zisis still got downhill to create, there was clearly a game-plan to disconnect Bamberg's veteran playmaker from his team. To emphasize the point, watch how Punter went under again in this next clip - only this time he got under and through fast enough to contest the shot. The outcome was a miss and the Italians going down the other end and claiming the early momentum with a Punter 3-ball.
For Bamberg, cracks started to show on the defensive end. The plan was clearly to keep Kevin Punter from getting good looks at the rim early. In the next clip, you see that Bamberg wanted to fight over the pick-and-roll then drop the big to make Punter see bodies between him. This is always a risky strategy against a player like Punter that can shoot so well off the dribble. The BCL's all-time leading scorer punished the Germans at every opportunity.
As disciplined as Virtus' defense was, Bamberg was equally wasteful offensively. Throughout the season the Germans have been able to rely on Harris and Rubit to generate scoring from the post. In the first two Quarters, a combination of excellent post defense from the likes of Amath M'Baye and Dejan Kravic, and Bamberg just missing shots or turning it over in the post meant a strength had become a weakness for Perego's squad.
Even when they did execute actions they have been able to rely on, they couldn't get the ball to drop. The set in the video below was the action that yielded vital shots from three for Bryce Taylor against AEK. Here they run the action well to get Taylor an open look but the shot just wouldn't fall. Rice finished the half 3/5 from deep, everyone else for Bamberg was 0/6! The combination of excellent game-planning and defensive execution from Virtus, and Bamberg's profusion offensively meant we saw the best defensive performance in a BCL Final Four to date - Sasa Djordjevic's men conceded only 28 points in the first two quarters.
The shutout continued into the third Quarter, as Bamberg again scored only 11 points (scoring only two Field Goals). On the defensive end, some of Coach Perego's adjustments did start to pay off. The Germans started switching almost everything and held Virtus to just 11 points themselves. In the first clip below you see Rice come up with the steal on the post entry after a switch, then the second clip, Bamberg switch everything to force the shot clock violation.
As the show rolled into the final scene, Bamberg needed something and Bologna started at their most ruthless. Kevin Punter, in particular, leading the charge on both ends. With 2.5 seconds left on the clock in this next clip, Virtus used Punter as the back screener on M'Baye. Coaches always say you will never be more open than after you set a screen, and this was clearly a well-drilled action designed to get Punter a look with time running down. A look is all Punter needed.
Then in the space of a minute, on the defensive end, Virtus executed in equally merciless fashion. The Italians had also been going under ball-screens on Ricky Hickman, inviting him to shoot. In this next clip, we see Virtus choose a different coverage and "Ice" the pick-and-roll by sending Hickman to the baseline. Punter read the pass and made the kind of transformative defensive play we have seen consistently from him throughout the Play-Offs.
Any hope of Bamberg mounting a comeback for those excellent Freak City fans was extinguished from then on. Virtus held them to another 11 point quarter in the fourth.
The numbers don't make for attractive reading if you are from Northern Bavaria. The Germans shot 25% from the field and 21.7% from deep. Virtus held Bamberg to an unbelievably stagnant Offensive Rating of 70 points per 100 possessions. Coming into the game much of the focus was on the impact that Tyrese Rice could have on this game, but it was Bologna's ability to execute the defensive game-plan on everyone else for Bamberg that decided this game. The Germans recorded only FOUR ASSISTS in the game, as Virtus cut the head off the snake by stopping Zisis from laying the table for his team, and took the punch from Bamberg's frontcourt with outstanding defense in the post.