Offensive production always catches the eye and makes easy headlines, which is why Rade Zagorac was the toast of the Partizan NIS Belgrade fans on Tuesday as their team raced to a 93-80 comeback victory over Tofas Bursa at noisy Stark Arena. The 24 year-old guard's near-perfect shooting and 26 points certainly sparked the offensive side of his team's exciting win.
Even more than Zagorac's scoring heroics, however, Partizan's ability to come from behind and seal the victory can be explained by one factor: defense.
In the opening minutes of the game, Partizan's defense was only conspicuous by its absence. Tofas simply could not stop scoring, reaching 19 points with just 6 minutes played after making 7 of its 9 shots, dishing 7 assists and committing no turnovers. The home team – despite the noise of its loyal fans at Stark Arena – offered no resistance, and Tofas enjoyed several double-digit leads. Although Partizan's offense stepped up a gear to keep things close – thanks to Zagorac scoring 6 points in 35 seconds just before halftime – Tofas still led 45-49 at the break.
One man knew that could not continue: Partizan coach Andrea Trinchieri. "They killed us," he lamented in his halftime interview on Euroleague.TV. "We were bad in every aspect and felt the tension of the first home game. For 15 minutes we didn't do anything. Now it's time to take off. And start playing."
Trinchieri's players obliged with an immediate turnaround, especially on the defensive end. Suddenly, where it had consistently found easy routes to the basket, Tofas was now running into dead ends. Partizan's improved positioning, collective coordination and – above all – added intensity made the task of scoring infinitely more difficult for the visiting team. Tofas converted just one basket – a corner triple from Matt Lojeski – in the first 4 minutes of the third quarter.
The same pattern continued throughout the half, with Tofas regularly enduring long periods without finding the basket and eventually being held scoreless for almost 3 minutes midway through the final quarter. That allowed Partizan to pull away and seal the victory after allowing just 31 points in the second half.
And although Zagorac deserves high praise for his scoring feats, the victory would not have been possible without a strong dose of defense.