It was a rough day at the office for Partizan NIS Belgrade. The Serbian powerhouse played against Joventut Badalona in Round 3 of the 7DAYS EuroCup Regular Season, in a rematch of the 1992 EuroLeague championship game, in which Partizan conquered its first title.
Partizan did not have it easy and trailed for most of the game, but found a way to win the game. Partizan made only 50.0% of its two-point shots, 30.4% from downtown and 57.9% from the foul line. Joventut shot better in all three categories (55.9% 2FG, 35.3% 3FG, 78.6% FT) and had 22 assists compared to Partizan's 10. It was only the 74th game in EuroCup history that a team shot worse than its opponent from all distances and won anyway. It only happened six times last season.
What allowed Partizan to win the game? Small details mattered. Partizan had 11 offensive rebounds to Joventut's 5 and scored 12 second-chance points to the visitors' 1. Partizan also had more steals (9-7) and fewer turnovers (14-17). But what truly made the difference was Kevin Punter hitting all the shots his team needed to win the game down the stretch and adding a critical defensive stop at the very end.
Joventut led throughout the second half and held a 62-65 margin in the next-to-last minute. That is when Punter started to work his magic. First, he took Joel Parra one-on-one and buried a tough step-back jumper with 56.2 seconds left. When Partizan got the ball back, Punter took the ball at the top of the key, used a pick-and-roll situation to force a switch and played against Ante Tomic. He scored over the mighty center for a 66-65 Partizan lead with 28.7 seconds remaining.
Joventut was not done, as it called timeout and Pau Ribas nailed a jumper from the elbow with 12.6 seconds left. Everyone at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall knew who would get the most critical shot of the game, from teammates to opponents to fans to Punter himself, of course. Punter played one-on-one against Derek Willis, who contested the shot well, but could not prevent him from downing a six-meter jumper with 4.2 seconds left. On Partizan's final defense, Punter had a key deflection that stopped Tomic from getting a good look at the basket.
"The team fought until the end and the game was decided by a big player, that is Kevin Punter. Because of his individual quality, we won the game," Coach Obradovic said after the game. "He is our leader and will continue to be our leader."
"It is a terrible day for us because I think we played good basketball," Joventut coach Carles Duran said. "I think we played better than Partizan, but we played bad in the last quarter and Punter made two incredible baskets."
Punter finished the game with 18 points on 6-of-8 two-point shooting and a PIR of 17. The poor shooting percentages, the lack of assists, the low team PIR (Joventut 75, Partizan 68). None of that mattered in the end because when the game was on the line, Punter stepped up like a true leader and that allowed Partizan to stay undefeated by sealing an important victory.