Euroleague Final Four Preview

5. Diamantidis Still Does It

Dimitris Diamantidis’ line hasn’t taken the next step here in these playoffs; overall, his numbers are actually worse than his season averages.  But in the face of the continent’s best defense, the only number that matters is two: that’s how many games Panathinaikos has won and, incidentally, the number of game winners Diamantidis has hit.

Game Two. Vintage.

And then Game Three.  In front of the homies.

Does he have a third in him?

Update: Diamantidis had a very disappointing game, frankly.  It got off on a very bad foot (or feet) when he picked up three fouls in the first quarter.  He did a solid job of avoiding fouls in the second half, which is to say his defense wasn’t exactly suffocating, either. During the 29 minutes he was on the floor he notched just six points on 3-of-9 shooting and missed all of his threes (Roko Ukic had Panathinaikos’ only three).  Even as the game seemed out of reach for Panathinaikos late, I was shaking my head and awaiting those big Diamantidis threes to hurl the Greens right back into it.

6. Stay Away From OAKA

Last April, the Euroleague fined Panathinaikos €88,001 (that extra Euro’s the real killer) because their fans reportedly lit flares, used lasers to distract players, threw objects on the floor and invaded the court right after the buzzer.  One year older and wiser, OAKA’s fans have decided it’s time for a change. I mean, what good are mere objects when you’ve got firecrackers, and why shine a laser pointer at someone’s eye when your buddy could give him the megaphone treatment, to boot?  Oh, and let’s just cram some extra people in OAKA to make sure y’all are loud enough, OK?  The Euroleague can’t honestly expect these newest penalties to pour cold water on Panathinaikos fans’ obstinate devotion to their Greens.  There is, and always will be, only one way to avoid OAKA’s wrath in a playoff series: win your home games.

Update: OAKA’s purr is Palau Blaugrana’s roar, but the reported 7,587 were vocal enough to set a supportive backdrop for Barca’s firm triumph. And the Catalan crowd certainly didn’t do Panathinaikos’ shooters any favors (1-of-16 from three).

7. Huertas Left His Confidence in London

Can somebody get Marcelinho Huertas out of Catalunya this summer?  That’d be swell.  I’m sure he doesn’t mind all the winning, but just because the team’s not broken doesn’t mean Marcelinho’s approach doesn’t need fixing.  During his days with Caja Laboral and summers with the Brazilian National Team, he seemed to anticipate, to know.  Now he seems to watch, to look, to wait even.  He labors for his highlights, and leaves his feet far too often.  Leaves his feet far too often? I know, I know. He’s Marcelinho. It’s what he does.  It’s who he is.  It’s why we love him. But when you’re flashing the indecision of a much younger point guard, we have no choice but to judge him like one.  Marcelinho’s Euroleague assists are down to 3.5 per game, his lowest in four seasons, and it’s visibly apparent that he doesn’t want to shoot the ball, either.  In one instance during Game Four, Huertas caught the ball with one second on the shot clock and was still looking to pass it off as he was fading away from what ended up being a missed jumper. Is it the more methodical nature of Barcelona’s offense that limits Huertas?  Well, maybe, but Barcelona’s had no problem putting up gaudy numbers this season, so that argument might be run ragged.  Has riding the bench during key stretches while Victor Sada gives Barcelona more defense at the point hurt Marcelinho’s pride?  That could be it, too.  Time to get over it, play passable defense, and do what you do. Things like this and all these.

Update: Statistically speaking, Huertas’ Game Four was his most productive, with six boards and six assists to go with his 10 points. He scored 10 in Game Five also, and I’d be willing to sacrifice the extra stats (just three rebounds and two assists in the clincher) to see that sense of authority from Marcelinho more often.  Aside from not turning the ball over once in Game Five, he also fed the post consistently, even two and three times within a single possession, and shot the ball confidently, depositing a triple late in the fourth to push the Barcelona lead to 62-53. It was the definitive dagger in the fourth.

Our two Game Fives didn’t impact these last three, so we’ve left them untouched.

8. Sergio Llull is Ready for a Do-Over

Llull’s first and only Final Four appearance didn’t go so well.  Llull scored nine points on 4-of-12 shooting and worse, his Real Madrid club lost to Maccabi 82-63 in the semifinals.  Llull was not definitively Madrid’s best player, but as the club’s only All-Euroleaguer that year (Second Team), Pablo Laso sure expected a lot more out of his young guard in the season’s biggest game.  Two years later he still isn’t Madrid’s best player—that distinction can jump from Llull to Fernandez to Mirotic to Carroll to Rodriguez and back to Fernandez again before a whole half’s been played—but his play might be more crucial to Madrid’s success than anyone else’s.  With Madrid’s most aggressive slasher Martynas Pocius out and Carroll usually content to live within his one dimension, Llull acts not only as a secondary ball distributor to Rodriguez, but a primary penetrator as well.  Come London, will we see Game One Sergio (3-of-9, 8 points) or Games Two and Three Sergio (14-0f-23, 39 points in total)?  I’ll bet it’s closer to the latter.

9. Sergio Rodriguez Needs to be ‘Spanish Chocolate’

The Bearded Sergio has a fun job: command Europe’s most massive weaponry.  Rudy, Mirotic, Jaycee, Llull, maybe an alley for Slaughter; this team’s got ammunition for days.  But sometimes with so many capable hands and urgent voices asking for the ball, Sergio says screw it and takes it himself. Some days, he does that more than others, and while his ability and willingness to score are valuable to Laso’s all-hands-on-deck offensive philosophy, Madrid’s their best possible ball club when he’s keeping his scorers well-fed.  Serge Rod averaged 4.1 assists in Madrid’s 17 wins and just 2.6 in their seven losses, and he’s second among playoff passers with 6.3 dimes per outing, including a 10-assist, zero-turnover Game One.

10. Caja Laboral’s Silver Lining Speaks French

Milos Teodosic booked CSKA’s trip to London with some ballsy shots and Nenad Krstic led the entire playoffs in PIR, but after the horn blew to signify the end of Moscow’s series with Caja Laboral, I caught myself thinking more about the losers’ backcourt.  Fabien Causeur is a 25-year-old Frenchman who led Caja Laboral with 13.3 ppg over the series, and Thomas Huertel is his countryman who ranked third on the team in scoring (10 ppg) despite scoring just four points in the first two games.  How do you rectify that sort of slump?  Going 9-of-10 from three in your next pair of games doesn’t hurt one bit.  Sorry CSKA Moscow: you’ve gotten your ink this season and you’ll get plenty more between here and England, but right now it’s time to bid a teary-eyed au revoir to Causeur & Huertel.

Nick Gibson, editor of EuroleagueAdventures.com, covers Euroleague and other international basketball developments for SheridanHoops.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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