04 October, 2022
14 May, 2023
0 Tj Shorts Ii (BONN)
Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's Champions League Insider
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Tactics Breakdown: Unicaja v Telekom Baskets Bonn Semi-Final

MALAGA (Spain) - Unicaja head coach Ibon Navarro tweaked his lineup in an attempt to capitalize on his team's  depth and the fact that Telekom Baskets Bonn would need to rotate to rest players at some point. As a result, Dario Brizuela started on the bench with the intent to bring him on when Bonn would usually look to rotate away from their starters.

We also saw a familiar lineup theme from Bonn as head coach Tuomas Iisalo was happy to match T.J. Shorts up against a taller player in Jonathan Barreiro. This not only allows Tyson Ward to pick the primary ball-handler and use his length to disrupt ball screens but also teases opponents into attacking Shorts with a player they may not have wanted to look for as a first option. 

Twice in the first quarter Unicaja looked to attack Shorts in the post with Barreiro, coming up empty-handed both times. Whilst two empty possessions don't impact the game that much in the grand scheme of things, this will have given Bonn a jump start psychologically and also gives them a chance to execute a team defensive scheme, as we see in the first clip with Krazter dropping into the paint to protect his point guard.

Bonn also looked to establish Shorts on the offensive end. Watch how he gets Perry on his back in the 'drag' screen action and then Kratzer uses a 'Gortat' screen to block his defender from helping on Shorts as he attacks the rim.

Yet despite things going to plan for Bonn, it was still Unicaja that got off to the hottest start. The play below is emblematic of what Unicaja have been about all season.

Yankuba Sima altered the shot of the defensive end, then ran the floor faster than any Bonn bigs and dished it back out to Osetkowski before the defense had a chance to impact anything.The speed the Unicaja bigs run has been their strength all season.

Then Navarro's lineup tweaks paid off when Brizuela came into the game and dropped eight quick points.

At this point, the men in green were rolling and the crowd was pumping. However, it would be the last time we saw a sequence where Unicaja had Brizuela and their bigs going at the same time.

It wasn't just the Unicaja bigs that struggled to get it going on the offensive end. Bonn's ability to throw out smaller lineups but force Unicaja into rushed shots contributed to Navarro's squad going 7-of-34 from behind the arc on a torrid shooting night.

On the offensive end, Iisalo's smaller lineups were paying off as well. By half-time they were up 41-31 and plays like this from Finn Delany were indicative of the advantages they were finding. 

The set that Bonn ran in this first clip and the way that Delany caught the ball on the run and put the dribble down at the same time are things that Bonn have done so well, all season long.

Unicaja did find a way back into the game as the third quarter wore on. Melvin Ejim started to impact the game on both ends and we saw a sequence where he drew a shooting foul on one end and Alberto Diaz then drew an offensive end as Bonn came down the floor.

The crowd was engaged and the momentum was swinging, especially with Shorts sitting on the bench needing a rest. An early injury to Karsten Tadda had shortened Iisalo's rotation, increasing the load on Shorts and Sebastian Herrera.

Coach Iisalo managed those rest minutes for his point guards almost to perfection and his star point guard paid him back for every minute of rest he could give him.

Shorts finished with 21 points and 7 assists and seemed in full control at all times. Plays like the clip below when he'd just checked back into the game and went straight at Will Thomas, made it feel like every time Unicaja went on a run, Shorts had an answer. By the end of the third, Bonn had the lead back up to 57-50.

However, you know a team like Unicaja, on their home floor, with the crowd behind them, and the belief from winning the Copa del Rey, were never going down without a fight.

Kendrick Perry played with a lot of heart and finished with 12 points and 7 assists. In the fourth quarter cracks started to appear in Bonn's defensive coverages.

Watch how Perry waits for Delany's indecision in the pick-and-roll defense to pick his moment then slice to the basket and dish it to Ejim. Almost from nowhere the lead was only one point.

As they had all game, Bonn found an answer to the run from Unicaja and pushed the lead back out to nine with less than two minutes to go. But still, Unicaja weren't ready to quit.

This play coming out of a break in play from Ibon Navarro gave them a last glimmer of hope. Watch how they used Dario Brizuela as a decoy running off screens to the corner and then as Bonn's attention was drawn, Kalinoski hit Ejim's defender with a back screen leaving him wide open under the rim.

As Unicaja played the foul game and sent Shorts to the line we saw him look fillable for the first time in the game as he missed two free throws to leave a crack in the window.

It wasn't to be however as the shot wouldn't drop for Perry and Bonn became the first German club to reach the final.

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.