Drama till the final buzzer
Both teams tried their most athletic lineups in the fourth quarter, with UNICS usingthe small ball – with Holland at small forward, White at power forward and Brown at center – that worked so well in Game 3 of the semifinals against Virtus Segafredo Bologna. It didn't last long, as even though Brown followed an alley-oop slam with a mid-range jumper, he quickly returned to the bench with 4 fouls. When Gray tied it at 70-70 with 6 minutes left, every EuroCup fan knew we were in for a treat - one of most decisive games of the season going down to the wire.
And that was exactly what happened with Mathias Lessort making the decisive plays down the stretch once again. Still, it was a EuroCup Finals game for the ages with 10 lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. The drama only grows with Game 2 in Kazan coming up on Friday.
Tuesday, April 27, 21:10
UNICS pulls away, Monaco rallies back
Holland was the only UNICS starter on the floor at the start of the second half while Monaco came back with its full starting lineup. Smith's 2 quick fouls limited him to just 124 seconds in the first half and the EuroCup MVP was ready to make things happen. UNICS kept running its offense through Holland, the most obvious mismatch in this game, and when Smith hit his first shot, his team led 42-49. The visitors used their trademark physicality to frustrate Monaco's offense, and when you don't hit shots, you usually start making defensive mistakes.
Klimenko capitalized on one of them with a huge dunk, then both Nate Wolters and Holland found plenty of space for respective driving layups. UNICS's frontcourt depth seemed to be an issue before the series, but Klimenko and Antipov continued to stand out. Gray and Bost found answers from beyond the arc and UNICS completely lost concentration with 3 consecutive turnovers, enough for Monaco to get within 57-59 much for the delight of a thrilled Albert II, Prince of Monaco. Gray quickly tied it at 59-59, as the guests called a much-needed timeout.
Knight completed Monaco's outstanding comeback - its ability to regain focus, its resilience, is what took the Principality team to the EuroCup Finals. It just proved it with an 11-0 run which White stopped with a three-point play. Canaan beat the third-quarter deficit with a layup to get UNics within 65-64. Brown and Holland each have 3 fouls for UNICS. Yeguete has 4 for Monaco and Knight has 3. No team is in major foul trouble yet entering a decisive fourth quarter!
Tuesday, April 27, 20:00
It's close at the break
Coach Mitrovic tried a more physical lineup, led by Demahis, Abdoulaye Ndoye and Wilfried Yeguete, early in the second quarter. It didn't work well, as Nate Wolters managed to stop Gray and slowly but steadily, UNICS found its scoring rhythm, keeping Monaco scoreless for 3 minutes. Canaan scored twice around the basket and John Brown took over with a wild bucket off a steal. Coach Mitrovic reacted by bringing Bost, Lessort and Knight back in action, looking for more reliable scoring options. Monaco, however, entered the foul penalty with 6:19 left in the second quarter, forcing the hosts to change their defensive strategy.
That allowed UNICS to be more aggressive in one-on-one situations. Lessort put Monaco back ahead, 29-28, kissing his fists after each made free throw. The hosts tried to play with Gray, Knight and Bost together for the first time, giving Holland a size advantage at small forward, which he capitalized on right away. UNICS adjusted its defense, too - after allowing 3 three-pointers in the opening 4 minutes, Monaco's only attempt from downtown in the next 12 minutes was a 20-meter prayer by Demahis at the first-quarter buzzer. Holland connected from downtown for a 32-35 UNICS lead. With Theodore leading UNICS's offense in arguably some of his best minutes this season, Klimenko shined in the paint, but Monaco answered by attacking the rim and powering the offensive glass. It is a fantastic basketball game, tactical, intense and with two great, focused teams. At halftime, UNICS leads 42-44!
Tuesday, April 27, 19:25
Threes set the tone early
There were surprises in the starting fives.Coach Priftis's plan seems to be to give Klimenko significant playing time. He was very active in UNICS's pre-game warm-up, finishing alley-oops over the rim and scoring around the baskets. He appeared in UNICS's starting lineup for the first time in a EuroCup game since 2019. Klimeko started alongside Jordan Theodore, Isaiah Canaan, John Holland and Okaro White. Monaco remained with its starters from the semifinals: Rudy Demahis, Dee Bost, Marcos Knight, Damian Inglis and Mathias Lessort.
Just when the battle in the paint seemed to be the key, Monaco surprised with its three-point shots. Knight sank a contested one, Bost buried a catch-and-shoot triple from way downtown and Lessort sent a great pass from the low post, finding Demahis for another three. Klimenko was the only player scoring effectively for UNICS, as Monaco switched in pick-and-rolls. Once Canaan found an advantage, playing one-on-one against Inglis, he buried a three-pointer.
Once Klimenko sat down and John Brown came in to open the floor, UNICS found more options to score. White picked up his second foul right after hitting a three-pointer, forcing Coach Priftis to bring Pavel Antipov into the game. Gray and Jamar Smith came off their respective benches, too, guarding each other. Smith struck first, forcing Gray to take an airball. Gray, however, buried a contested shot and made free throws on Smith's first foul. Monaco's physical display gave it a 23-18 lead. As for offensive rebounds, the teams combined for 0 in the first quarter, proving it was amrked in red in both head coaches' game plans.
Tuesday, April 27, 18:56
Welcome to the Game Blog!
Welcome to the EuroCup Finals' Game Blog! Here we will analyze the action at Stade Louis II in Game 1 from high atop the court, almost at the ceiling of Salle Gaston Medecin, with a great view of the action. Jamar Smith was the first player to start shooting around before the game and was on the court longer than anyone else. AS Monaco's first player to take the court was J.J. O'Brien, together with assistant coach and club legend Sergii Gladyr who, by the way, has his shooting touch intact.
Both coaches believe that small details are not as important as general things like hustle, intensity and above all, rebounding. Monaco leads the 2020-21 7DAYS EuroCup with 13.7 offensive rebounds per game and UNICS is third, not far behind, at 12.5 offensive boards. However, UNICS's best rebounder, Jordan Morgan, is out due to injury so Coach Dimitris Priftis may be forced to play smaller with Okaro White at power forward - or to give playing time to Artem Klimenko, by far the tallest player in the game at 2.14 meters. Simple things like staying focused and avoiding easy turnovers are the general keys but, of course, if the game is close, those details may decide the game.
This is UNICS's second visit to Monaco and the Russian powerhouse is hoping for a better outcome. Monaco beat UNICS 85-60 last season after making 11 of 24 three-point shots and limiting UNICS to just 8 assists. Only eight players, four per team, remain on their respective teams from that game. It was the two teams' last game in the 2019-20 season before it all ended due to COVID-19. UNICS now returns to Monaco in a very different environment: it's Game 1 of the EuroCup Finals and an important title is on the line. Stay tunedQ
Tuesday, April 27, 17:45