As the game enters its decisive minutes. UNICS has the same problem: Bost and Gray keep scoring against all potential defenders. They have combined for 37 points already in the early fourth quarter when their counterparts, Isaiah Canaan and Jamar Smith, have just 11 between them. Both Smith and Canaan were back in action with Theodore at point guard, as UNICS tried to spread the floor again. Gray buried a fallaway jumper and Knight adds a big three-pointer that gives Monaco a significant lead, 69-75, with 5:48 remaining. UNICS fans are pushing but Coach Priftis needs a timeout. Three-pointers are, indeed, making the difference: Monaco has hit 9 of 19 (47.4%) and UNICS only 6 of 22 (27.3%) until now.
Volunteers bring the trophy to the court, along with the medals and the Finals MVP trophy. Everything is ready for a potential trophy ceremony but UNICS has other ideas. Smith blocks a shot that allows Theodore to get a coast-to-coast layup. A defensive stop gives UNICS the ball back and Bost leaves with a small injury but Monaco stays fully focused. Lessort finds a good-as-gold put-back basket, Theodore misses an open shot and Knight makes a floater that puts Monaco closer and closer to the title, 73-79, with 3:35 remaining.
But nothing in this game is easy and UNICS comes alive along with Smith to tie it up 79-79 with 1:38. When Smith hits a jumper with 15 seconds left. It's the first lead for UNICS in more than 10 minutes and the other one lasted only one possession. This time it's the same. Monaco inbounds to J.J. O'Brien, which it has done in most key inbounds situations tonight, and he goes straight to the basket, getting fouled by John Brown for the decisive three-point play. Smith tries one three-pointer to win it, but Knight grabs his 12th rebound and hits both free throws and Smith's final try to tie misses. A remarkable game ends in a remarkable way with the trophy headed back to Monaco.
Friday, April 29, 20:58
Back-and-forth continues through 30 minutes!
No one was been more active during halftime warmups than the EuroCup MVP, Jamar Smith, sprinting all around the floor, warming up for what could be his big moment in the series. He started the third quarter as all five UNICS starters were sitting on the bench now. Monaco's Bost was the only player to start both halves, n fact. Georgy Zhbanov is in for the first time, providing his trademark energy against Gray. It doesn't last long, as Zhbanov picks up consecutive offensive fouls and is replaced by Dimitrii Uzinskii. Abdoulaye Ndoye hit a tough off-balance shot and Wilfried Yeguete hit a floater to keep Roca Team ahead, 50-54.
Bost tells everyone to calm down, his body language is excellent, the one of a fully-focused leader who keeps control at all times. UNICS cannot find Smith on offense and most of the credit goes to Bost, too. Smith finally scored on a put-back basket, not his trademark way of filling the net. Monaco did not panic when UNICS improved its offense, sticking to its game plan: powering the offensive glass, and attacking the rim for easier points in the paint. UNICS's foul distribution is perfect: 10 players with 2, none with 3. Everyone should be available for what promises to be a close finish.
The game has turned into a physical battle, which is what you expect from two really athletic teams in a big scenario like this. White gives UNICS the lead for the first time in several minutes, 65-64. Gray immediately scores again but Brown beats the third quarter buzzer with a huge basket. 67-66, the EuroCup Finals go down the final 10 minutes. What a game!
Friday, April 29, 19:41
Outstanding competitiveness, 47-48 at half!
We have had 9 lead changes and 7 ties through the first half, all you could want in competitiveness for a finals game!
Bost and Gray combined for 16 points in the first quarter, putting UNICS on notice. In the second, Gray finished a broken offense with a tough triple, looked to his bench and did a three-point gesture to celebrate. He then hit another one to make UNICS call timeout at 29-32. Monaco pulled down 6 offensive rebounds in the opening 39 minutes of Game 1, but has that many already with 7:20 left in the second quarter. The chance to being EuroCup champions tonight is pushing Roca Team now.
Canaan sat on the UNICS bench with 2 fouls, too, which means Coach Dimitris Priftis had to opt to use twin point guards, with Wolters and Theodore together on court. Theodore waved his hands to ask fans to boo when Damien Inglis takes free throws, and the Monaco forward missed 4 of them. Theodore buried a big three at the other end. It could have been a momentum shifter because Brown followed that with a jumper, so Monaco boss Zvezdan Mitrovic called a much-needed timeout. Bost made the most out of it, hitting a rainbow triple at the shot clock buzzer for a 36-36 tie.
Monaco finally took advantage of foul situation, attacking the rim and going to the free throw line often. Six UNICS players have two fouls and three of them - Canaan, Uzinskii and Klimenko - were on the floor, risking their third each. Gray buried another three-pointer and remained in that spot for a few seconds, trying to intimidate UNICS. It didn't work well, as Theodore and Brown kept the hosts within 47-48 at halftime. Monaco has buried 8-of-14 three-pointers, take 9 offensive rebounds and gave up just 2 turnovers; those are the biggest keys until now. But anything can happen in the second half!
Friday, April 29, 19:04
Close through 10 minutes!
Game 2 is underway! The atmosphere is electric at Basket Hall Kazan, with thousands of UNICS fans cheering for their team. As in every UNICS home game, the big show is on: a live DJ, a speaker and UNICS's mascot, "Uni", dancing non-stop with the club's cheerleaders. And if you saw it on EuroLeague TV - or any TV station with rights - the pre-game show was outstanding: the lights. the fire, the video played on the scoreboard to encourage fans in this critical game. It is truly amazing to see all this again.
There were no changes in Monaco's starting lineup: Dee Bost, Rudy Demahis, Marcos Knight, Damien Inglis and Mathias Lessort. UNICS started with Pavel Antipov at power forward, replacing Okaro White and joining Jordan Theodore, Isaiah Canaan, John Holland and Artem Klimenko, who won the opening tip, allowing Holland to hit a corner triple right away. UNICS followed the same script as in Game 1 early, with Theodore playing one-on-one against Demahis and finding Klimenko often down low. He scored twice in the paint but Bost soon put Monaco in charge, 7-8. He knows what it takes to win here, and wants to do it again in arguably the most important game of his career until now.
Demahis picked up two quick fouls and Monaco entered the penalty with under 6 minutes left. That's when EuroCup MVP Jamar Smith came off the bench, trying to bounce back from an unexpectedly underwhelming performance in Game 1, but he picked up 2 quick fouls again and returned to the bench. Bost remained a man on a mission and J.J. O'Brien gave Monaco a 12-16 lead. UNICS tried a more physical lineup with Dimitrii Uzinskii, White and John Brown together on court, preventing Monaco from finding more open shots. Canaan filled in for Smith at shooting guard and UNICS diversified its offense, with 8 players scoring in the first quarter. Nate Wolters was the last of them to put his team ahead, 26-24, after 10 minutes.
Friday, April 29, 18:33
Game 2 arrives - it's crunch time!
Welcome back to the Game Blog! As always, we will try to analyze the game a little bit further and get into more details as Game 2 of the EuroCup Finals between UNICS Kazan and AS Monaco goes on. The atmosphere at Basket Hall Kazan should be extraordinary. The game is sold out and thousands of UNICS fans are ready to push their team in this do-or-die showdown. Both teams had little time to adjust but like Jamar Smith said before the game, that should not be a problem with modern technology. "In these times, you can make adjustments in one day, even during the game," Smith said before the game. "We watched film a few times and know what we have to do now to be sharp - and we will do it."
Both coaches, Dimitris Priftis of UNICS and Zvezdan Mitrovic, talked about offensive rebounds being one of the biggest keys to this series. UNICS only allowed 9 in Game 1, well under Monaco's average (13.5 orpg.) but 3 of those came in the final minute, giving Monaco a four-chance offense which eventually forced UNICS to foul on Marcos Knight for the go-ahead free throws. Monaco only allowed 8 offensive rebounds and limited turnovers to just 8, and that level of focus should be there if Roca Team wants to lift the trophy tonight.
Limiting foul trouble should be mandatory for UNICS. Okaro White and Smith picked up two quick fouls and were limited to just 22 and 14 minutes, respectively. John Brown did not reach the 17-minute mark, fouling out. All three players combined for 53 minutes on court. In Game 3 of the semifinals against Virtus Segafredo Bologna, Smith, Brown and White combined for 95 minutes. UNICS found answers on offense through Artem Klimenko, who had more points on Tuesday, 22, than in his last 8 games combined (11). His matchup against Mathias Lessort will be one of the biggest keys to this game.
Both teams have a similar structure, with really talented guards, undersized, physical centers and great energy all around. UNICS has more experienced players in general, and in this make-or-break situations in particular. As always in big games like this, it should go down to who wants it more and stays poised during the game. We will be sending live updates during the game - stay tuned!