Tactics Board: breaking down the Final
MALAGA (Spain) - For the first time ever, both underdogs made it through the Semi-Finals and we ended up with a Final where nobody knew who was the favorite.
In truth, both Telekom Baskets Bonn and Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem s played the game with the tactics of a spoiler and what it produced was easily the most physical and intense Final we have seen in the seven years of this competition.
Jerusalem finished with 16 offensive rebounds, Bonn with 14. Both teams had over 20 fouls in the game, with the Germans finishing three out of the four quarters in the bonus.
It started exactly as Jerusalem head coach Aleksandar Dzikic would have wanted. The Israelis found, as usual, that Bonn were choosing to start their MVP, T.J. Shorts, guarding taller players so they could put Tyson Ward on Speedy Smith. Instead of a post up, Mareks Mejeris bullied his way directly under the rim and was impossible to stop catching it that deep. Jerusalem drew first blood.
That was, however, the only lead that Jerusalem would enjoy in the game and also the only time they really found this situation and were able to exploit it, in the entire game.
From that moment on, Bonn's defense felt like it was always in control, even when they had to sustain Jerusalem's runs later in the game.
They were very aggressive in defending the pick-and-roll to prevent Jerusalem's guards from creating advantages and even when they did end up in trouble, they were able to execute late switches and make plays od.
Watch Collin Malcolm in the second clip of this video: he gets caught out on a screen, then calls out the emergency switch and makes an outstanding play to recover.
The first quarter ended 14-7 in Bonn's favor as both teams struggled to figure out each other's defensive schemes.
The two players that never struggled offensively were T.J. Shorts and Levi Randolph. It was pretty clear that whichever of the two ended on the winning side, was also going to win Final Four MVP honors.
Shorts has the full offensive package: change of speed, change of direction, deception, shooting, and decision-making. The first time he fakes you right, then goes left and scores, the next possession he goes right, then cuts back left and dishes it to a shooter. Good luck.
The second quarter started exactly as Bonn left the first. Most people will see Tyson Ward sprinting out to throw down the big dunk but from an X's and O's perspective, the way he was stunting at the ball to shrink the floor and then deflect the pass was more indicative of the way that Bonn's defense was already in charge.
That play forced a timeout from Dzikic, and in search of some momentum, he sent his team to look for some two-man game to isolate one side of the floor. Levi Randolph also scored 9 of his 27 points in the second quarter as Jerusalem searched for a foothold n the game.
Then, as the first half drew to a close, Dzikic made an inspired sub to bring the game within reach to end the half.
With 23 seconds left on the clock, Jerusalem's head coach brought Mejeris for Hankins which allowed them to play with the same advantage on offense but also mean they could switch Mejeris onto Shorts for the last possession of the half.
The score was 37-28 for Bonn but Jerusalem were back within reach.
The third quarter swung yet further back towards the Israeli squad. They won the quarter 12-8 and also continued to win the offensive rebound battle, claiming four in the quarter. Zach Hankins in particular came up with several big plays on the offensive glass.
With 6:50 to go in the third and Bonn using their smaller lineup with Delany at the five, perhaps we were expecting Jerusalem to attack via a Hankins post-up.
But instead of being drawn in, they played their own game and Randolph punished his defender stunting at the ball by drifting to the wing for a three. Tuomas Iisalo had seen enough and called timeout with the lead cut to just two!
From the resulting timeout, Bon did this:
The quarter ended with Bonn on top 57-55 but Jerusalem's brigade of fans was fully engaged and starting to believe.
Then two possessions completely shifted the psychology of the game. First, with Dzikic going back to the smaller lineup he ended the half with, Mejeris switched onto Shorts and blocked his shot.
But second, the MVP showed the entire arena why he was the MVP as Jerusalem switched again with Blayzer and Shorts made a very well-defended shot look easy.
When a star player puts a team on their back like this and has an answer for everything, the result starts to feel inevitable.
In fact, the result was inevitable and Bonn put an exclamation mark on the game in true Bonn fashion with Tyson Ward pulling down a huge offensive rebound against three Jerusalem defenders and 23 seconds left on the clock.
Again, they had risen to their biggest challenge of the season and they had done it by playing the exact same way they had done all season.