The 7DAYS EuroCup Finals begin this week with Valencia Basket seeking its record fourth title and ALBA Berlin fighting for its first European trophy since the 1995 Korac Cup. There are many stories to follow to know the inside scoop on what promises to be an exciting series. Here are some of the most important ones ahead of Game 1 on Tuesday and Game 2 on Friday.
Familiar faces in a familiar site
The EuroCup Finals return to Valencia on Tuesday. The three-time champion is in the finals of this competition for the sixth time – and for the third time since 2014 when the format changed and the finals became a series, rather than a one-game championship series, which had been the case in previous years. Game 1 will mark the fourth time a EuroCup Finals game is played at Pabellon Fuente de San Luis. Apart from having all the experience of playing in these type of games – with as many as eight players who previously played in the EuroCup Finals, Valencia is also on a 14-game winning streak in the competition. The team has won all 10 of its home games this season and has won 20 of its last 21 home games dating back to Round 2 of the 2016-17 season. The only loss, however, came at the hands of Unicaja Malaga in the deciding Game 3 of the 2017 finals. Eight current Valencia players – Sam Van Rossom, Bojan Dubljevic, Rafa Martinez, Will Thomas, Antoine Diot, Guillem Vives, Fernando San Emeterio and Joan Sastre – remain from that team and all surely remember the feeling of losing the EuroCup Finals at home. They will not want to repeat that, but have to be careful because ALBA has already won this season in places like Krasnodar, Malaga and Andorra, the last of which was also unconquered until ALBA arrived.
Valencia enters the finals with the home-court advantage, but so far that has never been enough to also win the title since the format of the finals changed to become a best-of-three series. Moreover, the teams that entered the finals having the home-court advantage have won just one of five finals games over the past two seasons. In the previous two years, both Unicaja in 2017 and Darussafaka Istanbul in 2018 won the title without having the home-court advantage. Last season, Darussafaka stole Game 1 of the finals at Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and then won the second game at home to win the title. A year earlier, Valencia won Game 1 on its home floor, but Unicaja went on to take Game 2 in Malaga and then stole the deciding Game 3 in Valencia. Now, Valencia has a second go at it and will try to become the first team to win the best-of-three finals with the home-court advantage. The first step is to take Game 1, but this team knows very well it is just half the battle.
Can ALBA's offense do the damage?
Another player in this series who was a part of that team is the 2018-19 EuroCup MVP, ALBA forward Luke Sikma, who played for Valencia for two seasons. Now he will meet his friends twice this week, including Friday's Game 2 in the German capital. ALBA has not been as strong as Valencia at home, where it has lost three games (two in the regular season and Game 1 of the quarterfinals against Unicaja), but it has averaged an impressive 90.5 points per game at home. ALBA has scored more than 100 points in a game six times this season, which is a EuroCup single-season record, and has scored fewer than 82 points in a home game only once in 11 games this season. ALBA will need all that firepower against Valencia in each of the two finals games this week. However, getting its offense going will be far from guaranteed for ALBA, because not only is Valencia undefeated at home this season, but it also allows the fewest points (74.1 ppg.) in the competition in road games.
Aito threatening Spanish dreams
Fresh off earning his second EuroCup Coach of the Year honor, Aito Garcia Reneses's path to EuroCup glory goes through his countrymen. The Spaniard on the bench of the German powerhouse first guided ALBA to a quarterfinals victory over Unicaja Malaga and its Spanish coach Luis Casimiro, then in the semis he defeated another Spanish head coach Ibon Navarro on the bench of MoraBanc Andorra, which does come from the Principality of Andorra, but competes in the Spanish League. Now, the 73-year old legend is up against three-time champion Valencia and their head coach Jaume Ponsarnau, who will later this month turn 48 and has guided Valencia to EuroCup Finals in his competition debut.
History and milestones
These two teams have previously met seven times and Valencia has won six of them, including a 4-1 edge in their EuroCup clashes. The last time they squared off, in February 2017, Valencia crushed ALBA 73-99 in Berlin behind six scorers in double digits, among them Dubljevic, Van Rossom, Martinez and Sastre. While eight players from that game still wear the Valencia uniform, history might not mean much as there is only one player, Niels Giffey, still with ALBA from that meeting. ALBA has a new and hungry team, one that will try to become just the third in competition history to score 2,000 points in a single season. ALBA enters the finals with 1,858 points and at some time during Game 2 should reach the mark. The only two teams to previously achieve that milestone were Valencia in the 2013-14 season (2,019 points) and Khimki Moscow Region in 2014-15 (2,060) points. If the series goes to three games, it is reasonable to expect ALBA to break the all-time single-season record. Similar is the case with total assists; ALBA's 472 are already the second most in one season and the team would need 50 more to reach the record of 522 that Khimki set in the 2014-15 campaign.