Game 1 of the best-of-three 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals series between Virtus Segafredo Bologna and Joventut Badalona was as great as everyone expected: two former continental champions battling hard against each other, with deep rosters, well-rounded veterans and also promising young players on both sides of the court.
Virtus head coach Sasa Djordjevic provided the first surprise, starting Milos Teodosic for just the fifth time this season, but was forced to find answers on the bench throughout the bench. He certainly found them, as Virtus's reserves combined for 61 points in an 80-75 victory.
No player from the second unit had a bigger impact on the game than up-and-coming playmaker Alessandro Pajola. He surprised Joventut with his energy, defense and court sense, finishing the game with 6 points on 4 free throws plus 1 rebound, 6 assists, a career-high 5 steals and 2 fouls drawn for a PIR of 14. Only one player has collected more steals in a quarterfinals game since the playoff format was adopted in 2017: Aaron White of Zenit St Petersburg, who amassed 7 against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in Game 2 of the 2017 quarterfinals.
Pajola played a critical role early in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. With Joventut ahead 63-65, Pajola fed Teodosic first for a three-pointer and then for a layup. He went on to collect his fifth steal and find Vince Hunter for a close basket. Joventut called timeout at 73-68 but never came back, as Pajola had switched the game's momentum.
Marco Belinelli led all bench scorers with 24 points. He had 20 in the opening 25 minutes, when Virtus was struggling more against Joventut's physical difference. Teodosic led all starters with his fourth EuroCup double-double: 11 points and 10 assists.
Joventut did a lot of good things and Game 2 at Palau Olimpic de Badalona on Friday night should be very different. Joventut outrebounded Virtus 33-39 and limited Virtus to 20 assists after averaging 28.3 in the previous four games.
"I think my team played good basketball," Joventut head coach Carles Duran said. "I am happy and thinking about the second game."
All signs point to Game 2 being quite a spectacle!