Unicaja Malaga fans had to rub their eyes when they saw the team's starting lineup of Mathias Lessort and Giorgi Shermadini together for the opening tip. But the tactical change worked as Unicaja grabbed its first win in the Top 16. After 11 games of essentially alternating as starting center - and not having played together in a 7DAYS EuroCup game all season, the two big men were in the first five and combined for 29 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 51:45 minutes of Unicaja's 79-74 home victory over Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade.
Lessort started in Rounds 1, 4, 5, 7 and 9 of the regular season and the first game of the Top 16. Shermadini was the starting big man in the other five games. But Unicaja coach Luis Casimiro decided to line up the 2.06-meter Lessort alongside the 2.17-meter Shermadini to start the game.
"We tried it last week and over the weekend in Tenerife, we also had some minutes with Mathias and Gio together. It didn't go bad, even though we lost. But in terms of tactics and efficiency, when we analyzed it later, they worked well together. Zvezda has a player who for me is key, [Borisa] Simanic, who in the games we saw against Limoges and other teams, he played really well. So our plan, and I think we nailed it, was to have Mathias attack from power forward and attack Simanic directly in the low post because we thought of him as their key player. It worked well. I also believe that we surprised them,” Casimiro said.
Casimiro employed the twin tower lineup for a total of 12 minutes and 4 seconds and in that time Unicaja outscored Zvezda 26-19. Accordingly, Zvezda outscored Unicaja by 2 points in the remaining nearly 28 minutes when the two were not on the court together. Shermadini scored 9 points in a big 16-5 run in the first quarter, while Simanic was held to just 7 points in 16 minutes after he had scored at least 11 points in the previous three games.
The big man tandem had combined for between 32:49 and 40:00 minutes in the previous 11 EuroCup games save for the 44:58 minute in the overtime win over UNICS Kazan - meaning the nearly 52 minutes against Zvezda was a major jump. And the combined 29 points was tied for their third-best output of the season so far and the combined 13 rebounds tied for the second-most.
Casimiro may have found a new way to win games.