An impressive crowd was on hand to watch the best young players in Europe do battle as Real Madrid beat Crvena Zvezda 73-70 in a thoroughly entertaining final of the Adidas NGT.
A year ago this was a slaughter. The same two teams met in the final in Milano, when it was called the NIJT, and Real Madrid’s predictable offence made it easy for Crvena Zvezda to shut them down and roll to any easy win. Despite struggling against Insep’s zone on Friday, Real looked to have more options in this game, helped in no small part by Luka Doncic. Having just turned 16, indeed he was still 15 when he dominated at the Spanish Under 18 championships a couple of weeks ago, Doncic has become used to competing with players 2 years older than him.
In the early going he struggled with Zvezda physical superiority, getting out-muscled on defence but he started to settle after a few minutes and got into a rhythm. A three from Doncic with 1.49 left in the first quarter cut the deficit to 3 and forced a Zvezda timeout.
Last year’s MVP Vojislav Stojanovic was once again a strong performer early, picking his shots well, enjoying plenty of success on the boards, and dropping 4 assists in the game’s first 12 minutes. While the Zvezda player had the prettier stat line, Doncic was making more of a difference on the floor. His threat from outside opened up the floor for his team-mates and Real went on a 10-0 run to push into a 28-24 lead. That was almost what this game needed as it woke up Zvezda and both sides started playing with a touch more adventure. Jonathan Barreiro picked up where Doncic left off, hunting for opportunities on the outside.
You want to see youthful exuberance at these games so when Aleksa Radonov dished a behind the back pass that Stojanovich had no idea about, it was a sign of the confidence we want these kids to have. Real led 39-37 at the half and the second promised another open 20 minutes.
Stojanovich and Doncic was proving the match-up worth watching. With 2 years between them, the extra maturity of Stojanovich was always going to be a factor and he had the brains and muscle to limit Doncic in one-on-one situations but the Real Madrid youngster gained in both confidence and intelligence in how he dealt with the Zvezda star, albeit still coming out on the wrong end of most exchanges. When Doncic found space, he was lethal, draining another three to put Real ahead midway through the third. A dunk by Samba NDiaye brought the crowd to their feet as Real went into the final quarter with a 59-51 lead.
On the defensive side, Emanuel Cate was in dominant form with 8 blocks and good intelligence around the rim. The Madrid youngster fouled out with just under 2 minutes to play.Despite this the Romanian, who also had 11 points and 8 rebounds, made sure he was noticed with his aggressive style.
Andres Rico, at 190cm/6’2″ looked legitimately small as Real’s back-up point guard. He has smarts, enough to keep folk interested, but what jumped out is that we are now reaching this stage were we expect out 1s to be at least Rico’s height. There’s room for the small guy but Rico is fast becoming what we consider small.
For Zvezda, Aleksandar Aranitovic was piling up the numbers but the Belgrade club was leaning a touch too heavily on him and Stojanovic. The latter fouling out added more of the load to Aranitovic. That said, Aranitovic clearly has the intelligence needed to succeed, showing the vision to force plenty of turnovers and make a game of this entering the closing stages. A three from Aranitovic cut the deficit to a single point in the final seconds. The Belgrade club had one last chance via Aranitovic to tie it on the buzzer but Real held on.
Aranitovic finished with 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. It was a tremendously fun game to watch and a welcome change from the two past finals, which were blowouts. Here we saw some great young players face real competition and that made for a far more educational game for viewers.