UNICS Kazan faced a do-or-die game against Virtus Segafredo Bologna, which stepped on the court at Basket Hall Kazan with a 20-game winning streak in the 7DAYS EuroCup. Game 1 of the best-of-three series came down to small details and so did Game 2. Even though UNICS led most of the way, Virtus managed to tie the game in the final seconds and kept its chances alive down the stretch.
Virtus trailed 66-48 late in the third quarter, but Marco Belinelli sparked his team's comeback and Milos Teodosic tied the game at 81-81 with a driving layup with 19.9 seconds left. Virtus fouled Jamar Smith, who calmly hit both free throws. The visitors called timeout, however, Belinelli committed a turnover, which allowed Smith to draw another foul and seal the outcome from the foul line.
Once again, Smith made the difference for UNICS on a night in which he was not at his best, Smith finished the game with 8 points, matching a season-low, and missed all 5 of his three-point shots. It was the first time all season in which he did not make a three-pointer. Other players had to step up and UNICS found answers.
Nate Wolters returned to the team after missing five games due to injury. He provided court sense and gave UNICS a big boost. In less than 6 minutes on the floor, Wolters hit every shot he took - 1 two-pointer, 2 from downtown, an assist, 2 steals and a foul drawn for a PIR of 12. He was his team's unexpected factor, giving Coach Dimitris Priftis new tactical options at the point guard position.
The other playmaker, Jordan Theodore, arguably played his best game of the season, not allowing Teodosic to control the game tempo by playing physical defense against him. Teodosic had 27 points in Game 1 and was limited to 11 on o-of-8 three-point shooting in Game 2.
Theodore did much more than that, however. He led his team with season-highs of 15 points, 5 rebounds, 6 fouls drawn for a PIR of 19. Theodore added 6 assists and 3 steals to round off an all-around performance.
Isaiah Canaan, the team's second-best scorer at 14.6 points per game, had been struggling for the better part of the playoffs. He made just 1 of 15 two-pointers (6.7%) and 6 of 26 shots from downtown (23.1%) in his team's quarterfinal series against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. Game 1 of the semifinals in Bologna was not very different: Canaan had 9 points on 1-of-10 three-point shooting. In Game 2, however, Canaan had 19 points on good shooting percentages (60.0% 2FG, 44.4% 3FG) and pulled down a career-high 8 rebounds.
"Personally, I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself. I felt like I had been letting my team down with my play, but they always had my back," Canaan said after the game, "They showed it tonight and we got the win."
Virtus saw its 20-game winning streak come to an end. It matched the longest winning streak in competition history, but now is in a do-or-die situation and Coach Priftis believes it could turn into an advantage for UNICS.
"We go now to Bologna to fight like we did in the first game," Coach Priftis said after the game. "It is obvious that we have a chance. We played two very, very tough games. We will go there to fight really hard. There is a big goal in front of us, so we will do our best. We will give our hearts to fight harder in this game."
It was a big game for UNICS guards. With Canaan back on track, Theodore taking care of small details, Wolters back in action and Smith able to deliver in crunch time, UNICS is set to battle to reach the EuroCup Finals for the third time.