This Week's Games: For all the marbles

Apr 26, 2021 by Print
This Week's Games: For all the marbles

Before the end of this week, we will have a new 7DAYS EuroCup champion. The best-of-three finals series starts on Tuesday with AS Monaco hosting UNICS Kazan before the two teams travel to Russia for Game 2 on Friday - and a potential Game 3 on Sunday. Let's examine a few things to keep an eye on during the EuroCup Finals and potentially three title-deciding games within five days this week.

Home-court with a twist

The format in this series will be like none before since Monaco and UNICS agreed to change the order of how they will host games due to national restrictions concerning the COIVD-19 pandemic. Monaco will host Game 1 on Tuesday before UNICS uses its home-court advantage to host Games 2 and 3. UNICS earned home-court advantage by virtue of a point-difference that was 8 better than Monaco's in the Top 16, proving once again how every game matters. UNICS has a 10-1 home record this season with its only loss coming in overtime at the hands of Joventut Badalona in Round 5 of the regular season. Interestingly, home-court advantage has not proved to be crucial since the introduction of the best-of-three series format.

There have been three previous best-of-three EuroCup Finals series and only the last one, in 2019, went to the team that held the home-court advantage. That saw Valencia Basket beat ALBA Berlin. In 2017, Unicaja Malaga won Game 3 on the road to win the title and in 2018 it was Darussafaka Istanbul that won Game 1 away from home before sweeping the finals. Interestingly, the only game a home team won in each of those series was Game 2. UNICS will have a chance to continue that streak on Friday.

Battle of MVPs

Freshly crowed EuroCup MVP Jamar Smith enters the finals playing the best season of his career. The UNICS sharpshooter, who turned 34 earlier this month, ranks fourth with 17.1 points per game. He leads the EuroCup with 2.9 triples made per game on a remarkable 47.9% accuracy, but UNICS counts on him doing many other things, too, as he ranks second on the team in assists (3.5 apg.) and steals (1.2 spg.). Smith has been very consistent at peppering the EuroCup nets this season and has been hot, having scored 17 or more points in five of the six games in the quarterfinals and semifinals. However, two Monaco players took MVP honors for those two stages of the season.

Monaco guard Rob Gray was the semifinals MVP, having scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 1 against Herbalife Gran Canaria before securing his name in Monaco's history books by knocking down a memorable game-winner in Game 2 to send the team into the finals. Gray has knocked down 51.0% of his three-point shots in a Monaco uniform this season and made 71.4% in the semis. Another player who has consistently dominated lately is Monaco center Mathias Lessort, the MVP of the quarterfinals. The big man averaged 18.7 points, 7.7 rebounds in three quarterfinal games against Buducnost VOLI Podgorica and then had 10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the semifinals.

Important supporting cast

Alongside Smith, Gray and Lessort, Monaco and UNICS each have a core of about half-dozen players who are not just important contributors, but proven difference-makers this season. All-EuroCup center John Brown is coming off one such game, the semifinals decider against Virtus where he carried UNICS with 20 points plus 8 rebounds. Forward Okaro White also shined in that game with 22 points and played a key role in Game 3 of the quarterfinals when he collected 17 points and 7 rebounds. Jordan Morgan, who went down with an injury against Virtus, is the EuroCup's third-best rebounder with 6.9 per game. Guard Isaiah Canaan is UNICS's second-best scorer with 14.4 points per game and he delivered 19 points and 8 rebounds in must-win Game 2 of the semifinals. Veteran point guard Jordan Theodore also shined in that same game with 15 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals.

On the other side, Monaco counts on Marcus Knight's scoring; he's had 16 or more points in 10 of his 21 games this season. Dee Bost runs Monaco's offense and has played almost 34 minutes per game in the semifinals, during which he's posted 13.0 points and 4.0 assists, while power forward J.J. O'Brien made 4 three-pointers without a miss in the semis as he scored 13.5 points per game in the series.

Inside control

Monaco excels in converting second-chance opportunities, which is a product of its activity on the offensive glass. Monaco puts a lot of stress on its inside game. The team leads the EuroCup in offensive rebounding (13.7 orpg.) and ranks second in two-point shots made (22.7 per game), and attempted (42.4). Monaco is one of a handful of teams that have attempted fewer three-point shots (21.5 per game) than what it makes in two-pointers. Coupled with its struggles from three-point range, where Monaco is making just 7.2 threes on 33.5% shooting, it paints the picture of how important it is for Coach Zvezdan Mitrovic's side to establish control of the paint. UNICS is not that far behind in offensive rebounding, ranking third with 12.5 on average, but the team is the best in the competition as it holds the opposition to just 9.1 offensive rebounds per game, which could play a key role in this series.

Ranges, strengths and strategies

UNICS has fired on average 30.2 three-point attempts in the quarterfinals and semifinals and in those six playoff games, the team led by Smith and Canaan made a total of 68 three-pointers. For comparison, Monaco needed an entire 10-game regular season to make 68 three-pointers. It will be interesting to see if Monaco can withstand such a barrage of three-pointers, but it certainly seems equipped and capable since it allows a league-low 6.3 triples and holds opponents to only 32.8% shooting from the outside. Those numbers drop even more in Monaco's home games, in which it has allowed only 5.6 threes on 30.4% shooting so far this season. Monaco will try to keep that trend going when it hosts Game 1 on Tuesday to set the defensive tone for the rest of the series.