AS Monaco's 89-87 victory over UNICS Kazan in Game 1 of the 7DAYS EuroCup Finals was a thriller. The game saw both teams lose double-digit leads and featured 10 lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.
After such a contest, there are many things to focus on in the post-game analysis. Interestingly, the two head coaches focused on different key plays and moments.
"At the moment we took a lead of 10 points in the third quarter, we lost our minds, we played some stupid offenses and we received consecutive transition points without even being back," Coach Dimitris Priftis of UNICS summed up. "That was the moment that changed the momentum of the game."
Indeed, after Nate Wolters gave UNICS a 45-55 advantage, Monaco came charging back. Twice Holland scored to keep Monaco at bay, but soon three straight UNICS turnovers allowed the hosts to slash away at their deficit. After Marcos Knight scored in transition to cap an 11-0 run for a 61-59 lead, Monaco had regained all of its confidence.
"I think both teams played with great energy," Monaco's Coach Zvezdan Mitrovic said. "Maybe a couple offensive rebounds at the end of the game was the key factor in the end."
Of Monaco's 9 offensive rebounds in the game, 5 came in the fourth quarter and 3 of them on one critical possession in the final minute. They came right after Jordan Theodore gave UNICS an 86-87 lead. J.J. O’Brien missed a jumper, but the long rebound bounced to Rob Gray, who did not hesitate and fired up a triple. He, too, missed, but O'Brien fought for the board and passed the ball to Dee Bost. The point guard put up a shot from downtown and also missed. Knight leaped for the offensive rebounds and was fouled. He then made the go-ahead free throws with 27 seconds remaining.
Gray led all players with 23 points, but after the game was critical of his own game and complimentary of his teammates: "I missed a three at the end and missed a free throw. I need to get in the gym, but I am glad we were able to pull it out in the end with those last defensive stops and defensive rebound to get the win. Shout out to the bigs for contesting Theodore's right-hand layup."
Mathias Lesssort had a key role in those two defensive stops. First, he poked the ball loose from Jordan Theodore, which led to Abdoulaye Ndoye's steal. The ball got to Gray, who was fouled and went to the line with 6.1 seconds left. He only made 1 shot, which meant UNICS had a lost possession to try to tie - or win the game – at the buzzer. Theodore drove and Lessort rose high to tip the shot and preserve the win.
Ndoye too highlighted a different key to the Monaco victory. "I think the effort we put in the whole game allowed us to win, putting a lot of pressure on the defense. We stopped important players for them like Jamar Smith."
Yes, the defense of unsung heroes like Rudy Demahis, Knight and Bost took Smith out of the game. The EuroCup MVP, who was also plagued by foul trouble, did not even attempt a three-pointer for just the third time in his 109 career EuroCup games. Smith was 1 for 5 on two-pointers and tied a season-low with 2 points.
Wherever you look, there can be different explanations for how and why Monaco won. And ultimately, in such a close game, they are all true. Of course, all that really matters now is that Monaco leads the series and is one win from history.