09 October, 2018
05 May, 2019
Sasha Djordjevic (BOLO), 7 Tony Taylor (BOLO)
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Segafredo Virtus Bologna vs Iberostar Tenerife - Tactical Breakdown

ANTWERP (Belgium) - Two of the Basketball Champions League's best coaches, with two of the best defensive squad's the BCL has possibly ever seen. The scene was set and the potential narratives were there for all to see.  

In the huddles before the game, we heard enough from both coaches to get a clear idea of where they felt their squads needed to focus. We could clearly hear Txus Vidorreta telling his squad to go hard on the offensive glass. In particular, he stressed that second chance shots could win them the game. For Virtus, Sasa Djordjevic could be heard telling his squad to be careful of the "45 Pick-and-Roll" - He was referring to Tenerife's preference for creating through their Power Forwards and forcing switches by putting their opponents' big men in the screening action.  After Virtus' hot start, Tenerife called a timeout and went to that 45 pick-and-roll Djordjevic was worried about. M'Baye and Moreira switched ( as expected) and Coach Vidorreta's men showed exactly why Sasa Djordjevic was so focused on defending that action. 

If the video above shows you what Vitus were focused on in the huddle, the video below illustrates the point for both teams. Tenerife came into the Play-Offs as the surprise league-leaders in Offensive Rebound Percentage. Watch how Tenerife again forced the switch with Iverson screening the ball for Abromaitis, then as Bologna collapsed to stop Iverson, the kick-out created Tenerife's favored corner three. Brussino missed, Tenerife crashed the glass and got another great look from deep, but missed again...The theme of the first half in one clip. 

We can write tactical breakdowns on every minute detail of the game, but when Virtus shoot 48% from deep with Kevin Punter going 5/5, and Tenerife shoots 37 3-pointers and make only 13.5% of them, the tale of the game is almost told without going any further. With respect to Kevin Punter shooting 100% from three, we could write a full breakdown on his game alone (and we will come to him later). But the first place to start has to be Virtus' defense.  

Coach Djordjevic's squad limited the league's best offensive team to an Offensive Rating of 90 points per 100 possessions and an Effective FG% of 31.5%. They also forced Tenerife to turn the ball over on 28% of their possessions. All three stats are season worsts for the Canarians. After the game, Djordjevic spoke about the fact that he and his Assistant Coach Goran Bjedov had been working to implement the defensive rules they employ with the Serbian National Team. Without studying Serbia in detail, we could certainly see this Virtus team playing to a set of rules on defense. In the clip below, notice the way Kelvin Martin chases over the down screen to force the catch for Staiger away from the basket. Then also notice Tony Taylor bust his backside to deny the pass back to San Miguel. The outcome is forcing Tenerife into a rushed skip pass to Brussino. Then on the wing "Step-Up" screen from Iverson, Moreira and Punter trap aggressively.

Again in this next clip, watch how Kelvin Martin denies the pass back to Beiran as soon the ball leaves his hands. Martin then follows the rules to fight through the screen and fronts the post. The frustration gets the better of Beiran as he uses too much arms (left hand, followed by right elbow across Martin's neck)  and not enough feet, then gives up and an offensive foul. This kind of defense is horrible to play against.

On the other end, Tenerife's defense was faced with a "dead if you do, dead if you don't" situation with Kevin Punter. For sure, they did make mistakes in the first quarter. Watch the clip below and notice how Virtus run their own step-up ball screen action. Brussino goes under the first ball screen, then on the reversal, San Miguel misreads the action to be a step-up screen and goes under a false screen by Moreira. As the arrow shows, he should have gone over to be in a position to switch the hand-off. Punter takes a dribble and nails a shot from Lillard land - the engraver may as well have started the letter K on the MVP award already. 

The problem for Tenerife was that even when they defended that action well, Punter scored anyway. Watch the clip below from less than a minute earlier. This time San Miguel read the hand-off and was in position to switch. Iverson played the screen perfectly as Tenerife "Iced" it to the sideline. Then as Martin drives, the yellow and black's build a wall of bodies - great defense. The kick-out to Punter produced a deep, heavily contested three. Punter nailed it anyway over a 2.03m (6'8") Brussino challenge. 

Punter was incredible and his contribution went beyond any tactic, but he was far from on his own. We know that Coach Djordjevic was worried about Tenerife creating through their Power Forwards with the 45 screens, and against the Canarians, you need a huge contribution from your own Power Forwards if you are to stand a chance. Amath M'Baye stamped his authority on the game early and never get stopped dominating after that. 

Both those shots in the post may look like tough shots, but M'Baye has been making them at a high clip all season. To do it on this kind of stage was, none-the-less, super impressive.

Whilst we are on the subject of contributions in the post, another man that stood up for Virtus was the captain Pietro Aradori. The Italian scored nine huge points but his defensive contribution was potentially even more important. Watch how he matched up with Javier Beiran in the post. In both clips below, he refused to allow Beiran to get middle and shoot that hook shot he loves. 

Tenerife were, of course, never going to give up an easy win. In the fourth, they actually won the quarter 17-15 and got lead below 10. On the defensive end, they were trying everything. Watch the clip below and notice how high Iverson stepped out to ice the ball screen on Punter. Then notice how early Abromaitis left his man to build a wall and show Punter an extra body. 

On the offensive end, they were still using 45 screens but off the ball.  In the first clip below, Tenerife are in their "Floppy" set with Abromaitis running off a baseline screen from Iverson. Kravic was late closing out on the switch and Abromaitis did what he has done all season. Then in the second clip, it's the same Iverson screen for Abromaitis on the baseline, but from an out of bounds play. Kravic was late again and Abromaitis went to the line.

In the end, it was too little too late. The fightback was exactly what you'd expect from a former champion but when Mario Chalmers chose the fourth quarter to make his most clutch shot of the season, Tenerife's goose was cooked. Watch how Beiran was reluctant to help off Kevin Punter off the wing.

So,.... there we have it. A season decided in one game. For Tenerife, so many if's and buts, in a game when the ball not going in the hole was probably more impactful than any tactic. For Sasa Djordjevic and Virtus Bologna, it was a weekend workshop on defense with 17,000 fans in Belgium as registered attendee's.  Italy's most storied club added another European trophy and Sasa Djordjevic will most likely need to make a trip to Ikea to buy a bigger trophy cabinet.

What a season, what an event, what a competition. Not many thought it was possible for the Basketball Champions League to keep the momentum at the same pace after Athens last season, but somehow it did. Who knows what kind of stories next season will throw up, but for now it's time to let it breathe. See you all in October.

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon is a basketball coach and analyst living in Madrid. Constantly digging in the crates of box scores and clicking through hours of game footage. Diccon is on the hunt for the stories within the stories. If you like to get a closer look at what’s going in the Basketball Champions League, you have found it.