FC Bayern Munich and Unicaja Malaga will meet for the fifth and last time this season on Wednesday in do-or-die Game 3 of the 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals. The winner will reach the EuroCup Semifinals for the first time ever and face former champion Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in the next round. Bayern and Unicaja have split home wins so far in the best-of-three playoffs series, and winner-take-all Game 3 will be played at a packed Audi Dome in Munich. Having earned that home-court advantage by going undefeated in the Top 16, Bayern now hopes to make the most of it. The hosts are full of experienced players, one of them being playmaker Anton Gavel. At age 32, Gavel knows this is an unique chance for Bayern and German basketball, and he has lived up to the challenge, averaging 10.5 points – almost twice as much as his season average of 5.6 points – in the series. Born in Slovakia, Gavel has played in Germany for the better part of its career; this is his 13th season in the country and his third in Munich. Facing a team so many times is difficult, but Gavel knows what Bayern needs to do in order to beat Unicaja. "We have to focus on playing with strength and intensity, especially on defense, and not on knowing the rims better than our opponents and things like that," Gavel told EuroCupbasketball.com. "Both teams know each other well, so there will be no surprises. Rebounds and defense will be critical."
Hello, Anton. Congratulations on making it this far. How excited is everyone in Munich about this do-or-die game on Wednesday?
"Like you said, it is a do-or-die game and only the winner will stay in the competition. We had a great Top 16, winning all games, and would like to make it to the semifinals. We know it is not going to be easy because Unicaja is a great team. We respect the way they are playing, but at the same time we know that we can play much better than we did in Game 2 – and we have the home-court advantage."
You had a very convincing win in Game 1, with six players in double digits and 22 assists. How important is it to Bayern that a lot of players can step up in any game?
"Of course, this is very important. We built that kind of team, in which each player can step up in any game. We don't depend on one or two players who will score 20 points in every game. We have a lot of experienced bench players, people who know what to do. I hope we will be able to play like we did in Game 1, with each player giving his best. If we do, I think we will win."
Unicaja took Game 2 playing with a lot of intensity. Did they surprise you in any way?
"We knew that Unicaja would not give away the win. We expected them to put up a good battle and Unicaja is a talented team. We didn't play the way we had hoped, especially in the third quarter. Unicaja played much better than in Munich, too."
You fought hard all season to get the home-court advantage and have the privilege to play this decisive game at home. How valuable is that advantage?
"Of course it is important – this is why we played all season, to have this advantage, not only in the Top 16, but also in the regular season. Of course, there is pressure but playing at home is an advantage. I am sure our arena will be packed, people will come to see us and support us. You never know what can happen, but we have to focus on playing with strength and intensity, especially on defense, and not on knowing the rims better than our opponents and things like that. Both teams know each other well so there will be no surprises. Rebounds and defense will be critical."
You are playing very well in the series, scoring in double digits in both games. Is it your best moment of the season?
"I just try to give 100 percent, honestly. I want to give my team energy from the very beginning, try to lead by example by giving everything I have. It is a chance to take Bayern to the EuroCup Semifinals for the first time. It would be big for us. Unicaja has played in the EuroLeague for many years, but we are trying to make Bayern take a step forward and reach the semifinals."
For a point guard, how is it to have someone like Sasha Djordjevic, who has been through a lot of these situations before as a player, as your head coach?
"It is an advantage, of course. He was one of the greatest point guards of his time, if not the greatest! He knows what to do on the court and it is a great chance to learn from him and try to do what he wants me to do in every game. We have to be able to read his game plan and execute it to win the game."
Bayern is the only German team in the EuroCup playoffs. Do you feel like, in a way, Bayern is representing German basketball in the competition?
"Of course, we are trying to represent German basketball in the EuroCup. We are the only German team left standing, after ALBA and Ulm were eliminated. I am sure that a German team will soon win this competition, which is something that's missing. ALBA won the Korac Cup in 1995 with Svetislav Pesic, then Goettingen and Frankfurt won the EuroChallenge, and now German teams must try to win the EuroCup and eventually the EuroLeague. We must try hard."
You recently signed Maik Zirbes. How is he helping the team?
"He is a great player and proved it when he played for Crvena Zvezda last season. Maik is capable of being one of the best big men both in the EuroCup and in the German League. He has to find his rhythm after his injury, as he was sidelined for a month. When he does, he will help us a lot, I am sure."
A win would send Bayern to a European semifinal for the first time with the home-court advantage against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. Does that make this game a historical challenge?
"I think so. I made another interview with the German press and told them this is the most important game for us, Game 3 against Unicaja. If we are able to win this game, everything is possible. We know that playing against Unicaja for the fifth time this season will not be easy but again, if we win, everything is possible for us. Right now, all we think about is on Game 3 against Unicaja, and how to win it."
Finally, after playing against Unicaja four times already, what will be the biggest key in this decisive game?
"Truth to be told, I believe that intensity and rebounds will be the biggest keys. There is not a lot of room for surprises in this series. Both teams know each other very well, the opponents' plays and what they do on offense and defense. The 50-50 balls will be important, too. Winning those can give you an important plus in this game."