KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz head coach Velimir Perasovic made two changes to the starting lineup from the side that lost by 26 points in Game 1. He replaced second-year players Vincent Poirier and Luca Vildoza with his two most experienced players, Toko Shengelia and Marcelinho Huertas. That move had a big impact on the game.
With Shengelia and Huertas on the floor, Baskonia jumped out to a 2-8 start. The two helped set the tone, even if their numbers didn't shine at the end of the game. Shengelia only lasted 4 minutes at the start; he fouled Othello Hunter just 25 seconds into the contest and committed his second when he bumped Will Clyburn. However, the message of playing tough and physical had been sent. His replacement, Vincent Poirier, took over and dominated with one of the best games of his career.
Perasovic did not directly explain his thought process in starting Shengelia, an All-EuroLeague selection last season, but he alluded to it in his post-game press conference. "He is very important. You must know, he was more than 100 days out without the possibility to run, so it is not easy to come to his optimum form like before the injury," Perasovic said. "But day to day he's better. He's a great fighter, he's a great worker and day by day he'll play better. It's not easy for him, but today he showed he's in a good way."
Huertas got the ball moving and had 4 assists already when Shavon Shields's three-pointer gave the visitors a 10-19 lead. He would only play 16 minutes all game, but his strong start enabled Luca Vildoza to come in with confidence and play well the rest of the way.
Shengelia finished with a strong all-around line of 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in 23 minutes. Huertas had just 1 point, but dished 6 assists and was credited with 1 steal.
In the end, this was not a game that was defined as much by Xs and Os as it was by heart, desire, leadership and experience. Perasovic knew that with the season on the line, he could turn to Shengelia and Huertas for the latter. And they, in turn, inspired their younger teammates to deliver the former. The recipe was a long-in-the-making Baskonia victory in Moscow and a series tied at 1-1.