The astounding rebounding numbers in AS Monaco's favor told much of the story as the team edged Buducnost VOLI Podgorica 90-87 on Tuesday to win Game 3 of their best-of-three series and secured a spot in the EuroCup Semifinals for the first time in club history.
Monaco outrebounded Buducnost 46-25. Of the 37 times a shot was missed on its offensive end, Monaco collected the rebound 23 times – a whopping 62.2% of the time. For contrast, Buducnost grabbed just 30.3% of its missed shots. And the winner of Tuesday's other Game 3, UNICS Kazan, collected 35.6% of its offensive boards.
Those 23 offensive boards, which were a club record, led to 27 second-chance points for Monaco and were too much for Buducnost to overcome. This came after Buducnost had outrebounded Monaco 31-41 to win Game 1 and Monaco controlled the glass 34-44 in taking Game 2.
"We had the same problem as the last game, which is why Monaco won; we allowed them 23 offensive rebounds," Buducnost head coach Dejan Milojevic lamented after the game. "That was the key to today's game. We did some good things, we had our chances, but when you don't control the rebounds, usually you don't win the games."
Indeed, since Milojevic took over as head coach midway through the Top 16, Buducnost won both of its games in which it won the rebounding battle. Including before he became head coach, Buducnost is 1-5 since the start of the Top 16 when it has been outrebounded.
"It came down to offensive rebounds," Buducnost point guard Justin Cobbs said. "I think we got outboarded by about 15 or 20 or something like that. It just came down to effort; the effort on the offensive rebounds, second-chance points. So give credit to the other team."
Monaco surely deserves credit up and down its roster, but one who deserves special mention is 1.88-meter guard Marcos Knight, who posted a double-double of 12 points and a club-record-tying 12 rebounds. His 9 defensive rebounds also tied the club record. He is by far the smallest player ever to grab 12 rebounds or more in a quarterfinals game, giving away 11 centimeters to the next-shortest one.
Knight had 3 offensive rebounds to 5 for J.J. O'Brien and 6 for center Mathias Lessort, the man who missed the potential game-winner at the buzzer in Game 1, but proved the catalyist the rest of the series. On Wednesday, Lessort scored a career-high 24 points and set the tempo early with 17 first-half points.
"It's a great feeling," Lessort told EuroLeague TV after the game. "After the first game we lost on the last shot, we felt terrible and the whole team showed a lot of character. Tonight, we had the same type of game as the first one and we showed that we learned from it. That's a great win and now we're on to the semifinals already."
Monaco's rebounding average of 36.4 is the sixth-best in the EuroCup this season, but its semifinals opponent, Herbalife Gran Canaria, ranks second (37.2 rpg.). Coach Zvezdan Mitrovic will surely have a new strategy ready before Game 1 of that series tips off on Tuesday.
"It's an amazing result for all of us, but I just said to my players, 'This is not the end of the road.' We continue on our road to the EuroLeague," said Mitrovic. "I'm very optimistic, with a lot of emotion. We showed we can play different ways of basketball; defensively, offensively."
It will be interesting to see which of those different ways Monaco relies on next.