At halftime, New Jersey Nets draft pick Bojan Bogdanovic led his Fenerbahce Ulker squad into the tunnel up 41-24 on UNICS Kazan of Russia. Bogdanovic led all scorers with 15 points, 12 of which had come as part of a 15-0 run by the Turkish visitors.
The 26-day Euroleague layover hadn’t left the Croat’s right elbow rusty, and it looked as though Fenerbahce would strap themselves in and coast to the finish line.
That wasn’t the case.
Kazan flipped the script in the third quarter, scoring 29 points (five more than their total at halftime) under the guidance of their 34-year-old playmaker Petr Samoylenko, who’s not nearly as famous for his passing as he is notorious for his mullet.
Yet as Henry Domercant heated up after an ice cold first half and Vladimir Veremeenko—this week’s MVP with a PIR of 32—got his mitts around what felt like every other rebound, something else had changed.
Bojan Bogdanovic, the Nets second-rounder who couldn’t miss in the first half, was nowhere to be found.
After he missed a layup, had a shot blocked and fouled Veremeenko, Fenerbahce’s boss Neven Spahija pulled his rising star two minutes into the third with the lead still resting comfortably ahead, 44-28.
The next time Bojan saw the floor, Kazan had cut the Turks’ lead to just a single point. With the momentum swinging swiftly in the Russians’ favor, there wasn’t too much Fenerbahce could do but watch, wait, and wonder where it all went wrong.
But they knew; they all knew.
It was Spahija’s decision to yank his keys out of the ignition only two minutes into the second half, then standing idly by as a crucial road win evaporated into the Russian night.
Bogdanovic rallied for nine of Fenerbahce’s 15 points in the final frame but Kazan scored 23, taking it by a final of 76-71.
Veremeenko paced the winners with 17 points and 11 boards as Domercant, Samoylenko, and Terrel Lyday chipped in 16 apiece for the winners. It was the first Top 16 win in club history for UNICS Kazan.
Bogdanovic finished the game with 24 points on 7-11 shooting (4-5 from three). He should have also finished the game frustrated, and I wouldn’t have blamed him.
Ever since his move to Istanbul from Cibona Zagreb in the offseason, it’s been on the tips of everyone’s tongues: when would Bojan Bogdanovic, still only 22 years old, take the reigns and be the man for Neven Spahija?
On Wednesday night, Bojan submitted his answer with a roar. It seems Spahija—and only Spahija—turned a deaf ear.
Momma, There Goes That Man Again
Maybe we should go ahead and make this official. After all, The Weekly Mirotic has a certain ring to it, yes?
It’s true: for the last couple months, I’ve turned this column into my own little Nikola Mirotic cubby hole, dropping in impassioned praise and optimism until it was jam packed.
Well, it’s time to make room for one more gem. I could post it in English, but that’s not nearly as much fun.
Just moments earlier, Luka Zoric’s chippie with 9.8 seconds remaining had given Unicaja an 80-79 lead over Real Madrid. Then Pablo Laso called a timeout, and drew up a play with his sharpshooting Montenegran in mind.
When the clock showed zeroes, Real Madrid had escaped 81-80.
The catch on the high pass from Sergio Rodriguez, the presence of mind not to rush a contested three and the poise to Eurostep his way past Hrvoje Peric without traveling: all just the latest shreds of evidence that point to Mirotic’s inclusion on this year’s All-Euroleague team.
So no more Guess what, guys? Nikola Mirotic is really good at basketball articles. From now on, when we mention Mirotic’s name, success is implied.
Forgot About Drei?
It’s not easy to forget about a gangly, tattooed Russian, much less the Euroleague’s best player; however, CSKA Moscow had done just that for over two months without skipping a beat.
Kirilenko made his first Euroleague appearance since November 16, scoring 11 and blocking three shots to push CSKA Moscow past Olympiacos 86-78.
Their record remains perfect at 11-0.
And while one former NBAer was returning to action, two others started their newest professional assignments. Acie Law and Joey Dorsey suited up in Olympiacos’ thickly striped red and white home jerseys for the first time Wednesday night after swapping clubs over the Euroleague’s intermission.
Law came over from Partizan, with whom he had sporadic bursts of success as the team’s starting point guard. After a week 10 loss to Milano eliminated the Serbian side, Law and Partizan parted ways, leaving the former lottery pick free to sign with the Reds.
Dorsey arrived from Caja Laboral in Spain’s Basque Country, where injuries and a curmudgeonly coach (Dusko Ivanovic) limited his minutes and subsequently, his production. With Dusko’s club also out of contention, Dorsey said his farewells and slid into a starting role for an Olympiacos team that’s starving for size.
Dorsey’s start didn’t go so well, as foul trouble shelved him early and he finished with five rebounds but just two points on a pair of free throws. Law didn’t get in until the fourth quarter, but squeezed a couple of points, an assist and a turnover into five minutes.
It’s too early to deliver a verdict on the new signees just yet, especially as they opened against a defense so rangy that the paint feels like a jungle gym.
Sonny With A Chance of Turnovers
He had a hell of a run, but Sonny Weems’ recklessness has finally caught up with him.
Those drives that ended with whistles and free throws in the regular season resurfaced as forced shots and turnovers this time around, and Maccabi Electra beat Weems’ Zalgiris bunch 86-74.
The two points, six turnovers and -8 PIR are all season lows for Weems, whose transition to Europe had been going more swimmingly than anyone outside his immediate family would have predicted. His line of 17.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game was even enough to garner a spot on SheridanHoops’ All-Regular Season Team through the Euroleague’s first phase.
Now, with the weakest eight teams siphoned from the system and a spot in the playoffs on the line, those driving lanes will seem narrower than ever and you’ll rarely get off a jumper without someone’s hand in your face and breath in your jersey.
Let’s see how he handles Transition, Pt. II.
Bo and Basile Are Back
After injuries kept Bo McCalebb out of action for the regular season’s last three games, New Orleans’ favorite Macedonian son reminded us that nobody in Europe is faster with a leather ball in his hands.
I know better than to call McCalebb’s seven buckets easy, but he certainly made it look that way as he danced through the defense with his shoulders down and the ball tucked beneath his arm on the way to the cup, time after time.
Bo matched David Andersen for a game-high 18 points and Siena disposed of Bilbao 81-67.
Here in Barcelona, Gianluca Basile was making an entirely different kind of comeback: one fully loaded with emotions, familiar faces and even a painting.
After five seasons playing for Barcelona, the Euroleague’s all-time three-point leader showed up in Bennet Cantu garb to face Xavi Pascual, Erazem Lorbek and the club that helped him hoist a championship trophy in 2010.
Before the game, Barcelona’s executive-types and Juan Carlos Navarro, injured and in street clothes, presented Gianluca Basile with a painting of Gianluca Basile.
Which begs the question: where does one hang a painting of one’s own self without feeling snobbish? Is it even possible? Bathroom, maybe.
Another debate for another day…
By halftime, Basile had given Barcelona something in return: a two-point halftime deficit, their first at home all season.
In a game where both teams combined to shoot under 39 percent, we entered the fourth all square at a middle school-esque 39-39. It was clear that the stouter defense down the stretch would produce our winner.
Basile cut the lead to five with a rainmaker from the wing with a couple minutes to go, and the fans of both teams applauded furiously, hoping for one last spurt of Blaugrana magic from Gianluca.
They’d witness no such thing.
Cantu got no closer, and Barcelona won 65-60 to start 1-0 in the Top 16. Only six players scored for the Catalan side, their shallowest production of the year, but the defense was as splendid as ever, inducing awkward shots and 15 turnovers (Barca only turned it over six times).
Basile, who along with Vladimir Micov led Cantu with 13 points, came out for one final ovation before blazing a trail to a mysterious place: the visitor’s locker room.
With the month-long anticipation of his Barcelona reunion tour finally behind him, Basile can finally take a breath and wipe his brow.
But he’ll need to regroup in a hurry. The Top 16 waits for no man, and paintings don’t hang themselves.
Nick Gibson, editor of EuroleagueAdventures.com, covers Euroleague and other European basketball developments for SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear each Friday. Click here to follow him on Twitter.