Seven takeaways from Tuesday: Clutch City in Jerusalem, Comeback Queen in Athens
MIES (Switzerland) - It doesn't get any crazier than this. Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem edged out Limoges CSP, AEK came back from -20 to win their game v Limoges CSP, while Lenovo Tenerife went up to 3-0 by allowing 66 points.
Here are all the punchlines from a three-game Tuesday in the Basketball Champions League. The fourth game of the day, the one between Darussafaka Lassa and UCAM Murcia was postponed, as well as the other two games involving Turkish clubs (Bahcesehir College v BAXI Manresa; Unicaja v Galatasaray Nef) due to the devastating earthquake in Turkey.
#1 Clutch City
Houston earned a nickname Choke City thanks to their multiple bloopers in various sports in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. But with Rudy Tomjanovich in charge of the Houston Rockets, the nickname was changed to Clutch City, to pay tribute to the Rockets' crazy run in 1994 and 1995, winning a pair of NBA titles.
Fast forward to 2023, and it's time to send that nickname over the Atlantic, over the Mediterranean sea, all the way to Jerusalem, Israel. Because coach Aleksandar Dzikic is up to some craziness we've never witnessed before.
Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem won their first game of the season against Darussafaka Lassa, 69-67, with Markel Starks and Dogus Ozdemiroglu missing a pair of shots to force overtime or win the game.
Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem then won a road game in Denmark, taking down the Bakken Bears 72-71 on a last second dunk by Mareks Mejeris.
Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem then made it to the Round of 16, lost their first home game to JDA Bourgogne Dijon, but bounced back to get a game winning bucket from Khadeen Carrington, good enough for a 65-63 road win over Hapoel Atsmon Holon.
Finally, in a game filled with madness down the stretch, Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem defeated SIG Strasbourg 81-80 on a last second floater by Levi Randolph.
You don't have to be a scientist to put those together and find out that Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem are 4-0 in games decided by two points or less this season. That's what we're saying here, Houston needs to allow Jerusalem to use the same nickname. They already share team colors, the comparison is there for the making, so we made it.
#2 Zach Hankins' career night
We already witnessed Zach Hankins getting to double digits or close to 20 points before the halftime break. He did it again against SIG Strasbourg, but in contrast with those earlier games, he did not turn his engine off or went into cruise control mode after the break.
Hankins tortured Strasbourg's undersized frontcourt by pouring in 28 points on 13-of-16 shooting from the field, with 12 rebounds also to his name. That's his third straight game with 10+ rebounds, and that's his BCL career-high in points, proving he belongs in the MVP Race.
And that's the luxury that coach Dzikic has with this roster. He's had three different game winners, plus Hankins playing the best basketball of his life, plus Speedy Smith dishing out assists left and right, plus Itay Segev getting a big dunk for the lead v Strasbourg... Team first, fans first, Jerusalem up to 2-1 and loving life over there.
#3 Keene is mean
SIG Strasbourg were just a second away from going 3-0, and it's all because of their point guard Marcus Keene. He really stepped it up during the Round of 16, this was his third straight 20+ point game, and he also had 12 assists. With 20 points and 12 assists, he joined Joe Ragland and David Holston as the only player to get 20pts-10ast double-double this season.
Oh, and Ragland did it twice. And yep, all three of them are in the same group here. They will tell you it's nothing personal, but really, it feels like it's completely personal between them now, trying to figure out who the best point guard in Group I is, with Speedy Smith also wanting to join the conversation.
But Keene's way of doing it was scary. He is mean, he doesn't care about your feelings and he will celebrate his go-ahead triple as loud as he can.
Strasbourg are getting exactly what they wanted from him, and coach Luca Banchi can be excited ahead of this February break, because he knows Keene and Co went 2-1 without Matt Mitchell playing a single second. Once he's back, Strasbourg will have a lot to say the rest of the way.
#4 K in AEK is for komeback
One day, The Queen will win a game without causing a heart attack or two in Athens. That day has not arrived, yet.
AEK already owned the biggest comeback in BCL history, overturning a 25-point deficit against Pinar Karsiyaka earlier this season. Now, they have TWO games they won after being down by 20+ points at some point of the game.
Limoges CSP opened up a 37-17 lead in the second quarter, cruising towards their first win, hitting nine of their first 12 attempts from beyond the arc. But then, somebody in their locker room pushed play and turned on Queens of the Stone Age's hit single I Appear Missing.
AEK not only erased that 20-point deficit, but also went on to win the game by 10, meaning they won the last 27 minutes of the game by 30 points! It finished 82-72, meaning Limoges remain winless, while AEK rise to 2-1 and have the whole February to enjoy this successful start to 2023.
The 2018 champs won six of their last seven BCL games. Trivia time: How many times were they ahead at halftime in those six games?
Exactly. Not once. Coach Ilias Kantzouris, master of adjustments, no doubt about it.
So when you see a team, any team, up on AEK at the half, just know. The message in the Athens locker room will be, "great, we got them right where we want them!"
#5 Akil Mitchell's MVP run continues
Instead of saying AEK's big man had his seventh straight game with 16 or more points, instead of saying he had 21 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists against Limoges CSP, instead of saying he is looking like a real MVP out there, here's one for you.
What's the best nickname for him? Hakeem Mitchell? DUNKil Mitchell? AEKil Mitchell? Licensed to Akil? Akiller Mitchell?
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So many options. Not necessarily good ones, but still a lot of them.
#6 Shermadini chasing all-time lead in points
Last week, we talked about Lenovo Tenerife putting the emphasis on "defending" in this defending champs thing. This week, we're doing the same, because Txus Vidorreta's men held Surne Bilbao to less than 70, too.
Final score said 78-66, taking Tenerife's points allowed total to 190 in three games. That's 63.3 per game. That's crazy. Even crazier when you consider they played Darussafaka Lassa, UCAM Murcia and Surne Bilbao, three teams that would all be disappointed if they don't make it to the Quarter-Finals.
Offensively, it was first up to Bruno Fitipaldo to do the scoring, and he finished with 19 points, hitting five threes, meaning he's shooting 11-of-15 from beyond the arc in two home games in the Round of 16. Giorgi Shermadini did his damage throughout the game, counting to 22, becoming only the second player with 800+ career points in the BCL.
Vojtech Hruban is still in the lead with 996. Shermadini now has 812. That's 184 points between them. Let's say Tenerife advance to the Quarter-Finals and play all three games there, then reach the Final Four and play two more. That's eight games remaining to catch Hruban already this season.
That's 23 points per game. He could do it. We're used to stranger things than that in this League.
#7 Txus Vidorreta keeps on winning
With a win over his hometown club Surne Bilbao, Txus Vidorreta climbs to 75 coaching wins in the BCL. Nobody else is even close to him, and those triple digits in wins seems so close now.
The best part about the two-time champion with Lenovo Tenerife? He reached 75 wins in just 99 games. Made winning a habit. Another trophy could be in his hands already this weekend, as Lenovo Tenerife host the FIBA Intercontinental Cup 2023 in San Cristobal de La Laguna.
To think that they are heading into an event like this as strong favorites speaks volumes of the culture coach Vidorreta built there in the last seven years.