The Green Redeem Team - Anatomy of a Comeback
MIES (Switzerland) - Impossible is nothing! Or at least so says the slogan for that famous marketing campaign. Well,... in the Basketball Champions League, impossible is normal. If you have been watching this competition for the last seven years you could be forgiven for not being that shocked when Bryce Jones completed a record 22-point comeback to send Limoges to the Round of 16. When you watch this competition regularly, the unbelievably unlikely starts to become almost inevitable. But it really was an unlikely story. Really, really unlikely and as often as crazy happens in the BCL, this isn't one we should allow ourselves to take for granted.
Let's start off with just looking at the math of the situation. With 4:30 to go in the second quarter, MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg had a 22-point lead. Both teams had played 33 possessions each in the game. Before the game, Ludwigsburg were averaging 76 possessions per 40 minutes, with Limoges at 70. If we meet those two numbers in the middle (yes, we know but this is a column on a website, not a research paper), then we get a guestimate of 73 possessions to be expected in the game. With 33 possessions done, a reasonable expectation would have been that Limoges had 40 ish possessions to save their season. It turns out the 40 minutes of the game in normal time were played at a Pace of 72.4 so that guestimate actually wasn't bad.
Before the game, Limoges had an Offensive Efficiency of 107 points per 100 and a Defensive Efficiency of 97.9 points per 100, giving them a Net Rating of +9.4 per 100. If you had hit the reset button at the point Ludwigsburg went up by 22 and played out the rest of the game at their season average for efficiency, Ludwigsburg would have scored 39 more points and finished with 89, Limoges would have scored 43 more points and finished with 71, leaving the Germans with a comfy 18-point win. What actually happened is what we see in the chart below.
The numbers above don't correlate exactly to Limoges' comeback because they are by minute and the comeback started with 4:30 to go in the half. However, they do give us a great picture of the scale involved in the turnaround. If we go by the minute in the chart above, Limoges had an Offensive Efficiency of 100.9 points per 100 before the comeback and a Defensive Efficiency of 165.6! They flipped that into 133 on offense and 85.2 on defense. They went from a Net Rating of -64.6 to +47.7! Remember, they had a season average of +9.4 points per 100 for Net Rating going into the game...You see what we mean when we say it really was an unlikely story?
When we dive into the film, it makes sense to start at rock bottom for Limoges. The clip below is the bucket that gave RIESEN the 22-point lead and forced Massimo Cancellieri into calling a timeout. The problems are easy to see; Ludwigsburg's pressure defense swarming the drive and forcing a bad decision, then Limoges' transition defense letting them down and allowing Josh King's team to do whatever they want.
In the resulting timeout, Cancellieri told his players that they needed to make Ludwigsburg feel them on defense and that is exactly what turned the tide before the halftime break. You will often hear coaches talk about being physical at the point of contact, which refers usually to screening actions. In the clip below we can see Limoges clearly make themselves felt at the point of contact or advantage. Ludwigsburg are using a down screen away from the ball to create an advantage, watch #22, Wojciechowski read the offense and use his length to jump and steal the pass. Limoges didn't score on the fastbreak afterward but what really mattered was that they were getting stops. Ludwigsburg turned the ball over on the first two possessions coming out of Cancellieri's timeout.
For any comeback to take hold, Limoges really needed to cement a grip on the game before the break and that is exactly what they did. After going up by 22, Ludwigsburg only managed to score a single point in the remaining 4:30 of the half. In the final seven possessions of the half Ludwigsburg's Offensive Efficiency was 14.2 points per 100. Compare that to the 165.6 before it and you can see that it was defense that swung the momentum for Limoges.
The most telling possession of all was the penultimate one of the half. Watch how Limoges "Triple Switched" what was meant to be a "Spain" pick-and-roll from Ludwigsburg. Yeguete hedges the ball screen, then switches, whilst Graves and Hawkins switch again on the backside to prevent a mismatch on the roller or an open shot for Jacob Patrick. The risk in this coverage is that you leave Yeguete on an island guarding Hubb but instead of it being a problem, Yeguete comes up with a steal, then dives on the loose ball and creates an assist for Graves. They go in at the half with the score 51-39 with the lead cut to 12. These are the types of possession that have to go your way in a big comeback.
The next key swing was halfway through the third quarter. Ludwigsburg started the quarter strong and looked to be back in control with a 16-point lead. In one stroke Nicolas Lang cut that lead back down to 12 with a three-pointer plus the foul.
The next possession immediately after was a stop and Bryce Taylor went to the free-throw line to reduce the lead down to just 10. The teams traded buckets from there with the third quarter ending 72-63 and another three points shaved off the deficit for Cancellieri's squad. Also of importance to Limoges was the decision-making of Bryce Jones and Jayvon Graves. They were able to get their feet wet almost at will in the third quarter and from there it was a trip to the charity stripe or the right pass to the open man.
Contrast the decision from Jones on the play in the clip below with the forced drive, one versus five in the first video of this story.
It might seem strange for a player with only nine points in the game to feature so heavily in video analysis of a 22-point comeback but it just adds evidence to further the case for how important Nicolas Lang is to this Limoges team. Watch the crafty off-ball screen that Graves sets for him to get open and cut the lead down to six. When Jones and Graves are getting to the rim that usually means more space for Lang to shoot and vice-versa.
For any team to make a comeback they need to take care of what they can do on the floor but they also need everything to go their way. At the midpoint of the fourth quarter, Yorman Polas Bartolo went to contest a Javonte Hawkins shot. Hawkins faked the shot and drove with Polas Bartolo in the air. Hawkins ended up taking a shot to the head from the Cuban's knee and the call on the floor was an unsportsmanlike foul. Hawkins hit both free-throws, then Limoges scored again when they got the ball back. Another four-point possession for Cancellieri's squad and suddenly the lead was three!
That's not to say the comeback was complete from that moment. Josh King's squad reacted well to the setback and looked to have killed the game by pushing the lead back to seven with 4:10 to go. Cancellieri called another timeout and Graves shot them back from the dead.
Limoges weren't finished getting the rub of the green (see what we did there). With Polas Bartolo running clear for a transition layup to give Ludwigsburg a six point lead and a chance for the and one, Bryce Jones found something in his locker with the unbelievable blocked shot in the clip below. Massimo Cancellieri challenged the call and not only was the goaltend overturned but also the foul call. This is exactly the type of drama and situation that makes the Head Coach Challenge an outstanding addition to the rulebook.
From there we hand this story over to Bryce Jones to tell it from the only perspective that counts. What a story it is, what a game he had with 26 points and nine assists. From 0-3 to start the season and then -22 in the deciding tie of the Play-Ins, somehow Limoges have become "The Green Redeem Team" and made it to the Round of 16 (even if they aren't actually wearing green in the BCL this season).