AS Monaco center Mathias Lessort earned 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals MVP honors after going off for a career-high 24 points in Game 3 of the best-of-three series against Buducnost VOLI Podgorica. On Tuesday, Lessort played a much different game, but was no less important in leading his team to an 82-77 victory over Herbalife Gran Canaria in the semifinals opener.
Lessort had his worst shooting game of the season, making just 4 of 13 shots, but he was a force on the defensive end with 5 blocked shots and also captured 5 offensive rebounds – the last of which was critical to the outcome. Lessort finished with 12 points, which were second-most on the team and a team-high 8 rebounds.
The 5 blocks were both a Monaco club record and a career-high for Lessort. Moreover, he tied the record for the most blocks in a EuroCup Semifinals game. Timofey Mozgov also rejected 5 shots in an April 2009 game for Khimki Moscow Region.
Lessort was a focal point of the Monaco attack early as he drew 2 fouls from Gran Canaria's starting center Oliver Stevic, who was forced to the bench and never found his rhythm. Lessort only scored once in the second quarter, but blocked 4 shots in that time as Monaco took charge of the game, holding the visitors to just 5 points in the quarter to build an 18-point halftime advantage.
The third quarter belonged to Gran Canaria as it stormed back to within 4. Gran Canaria continued to apply the pressure in the fourth making one run after another. At first, Monaco could rely on Rob Gray to withstand the pressure; he scored 13 of his game-high 25 points in the final stanza. When Gray fouled out with 2 minutes remaining, the hosts led by 10. However, back-to-back threes by John Shurna and A.J. Slaughter made it 75-71 with 54 seconds left.
Then J.J. O'Brien missed a mid-range jumper and suddenly the game appeared wide open. Instead, Lessort stood up to fight for the offensive rebound. After he sent the ball out, Lessort repositioned, took the pass from Damien Inglis and converted a key basket-plus-foul. It would prove to be the play that preserved Monaco's Game 1 victory.
Naturally, much of the game analysis should and will focus on Monaco's great second quarter and Gran Canaria's impressive comebacks. Both head coaches will study what went right and what went wrong for their teams. Among the things that they will discover is when Lessort is on the floor, good things usually happen for Monaco.
In the quarterfinals, it was scoring. On Tuesday is was blocking shots and making the big play down the stretch. And anything is possible out of this budding star in the games to come.