Considering the strength of their comeback and their roar down the stretch, the consensus is still cool on Baskonia’s chances of pulling an upset in the playoffs. Emmet Ryan on why Zeljko Obradovic and Fenerbahce will be taking nothing for granted when they face off in the Euroleague post-season.
The road for Baskonia to the post-season has been well covered. The season started awfully, with club playing legend Pablo Prigioni stepping down because he wasn’t getting it done as a coach. That 0-4 opening put Baskonia in a big hole but they clawed hard, with Pedro Martinez coming in and getting them back into contention. The real run however didn’t come until the final stretch. Winning 6 straight put them in the playoffs, their closing season loss to Anadolu Efes was a dead rubber and little should be read into it.
This is a side that got hot when it mattered and has the type of momentum that ought to concern anybody getting them. The best analogy I can think of is the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, who ended up in the NFL playoffs with a wildcard spot but then went all the way having got hot at the right time. That’s the image being put front and centre by Baskonia.
Yet nobody’s really believing in them. Their results against the Top 4 probably skew the view on them, going 2-6 on the season against the sides with home court in the post-season including 0-2 vs their opponents in this series. Don’t think for a moment that Zeljko Obradovic is seeing this as a straightforward one. He’s seen the form for Baskonia and, even with Jayson Granger down, he knows this could be a big test for his charges.
Retaining the Euroleague crown is brutal at the best of times but at least the Olympiacos side that went back-to-back in 2012 and 2013 didn’t lose contributors on the scale of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Ekpe Udoh between those campaigns. Fener has taken an approach of replacing production rather than replacing personnel with their bid to retain the title.
That’s led to a far more consistent season but fewer games where, at their best, they looked like they could come out of nowhere to crush a side. There’s talent there but everything is by committee. That requires far more balance and leads to far fewer instances of being able to just have someone step up and put their foot on the gas pedal to drive a wedge between sides.
This doesn’t mean Fener aren’t as good as last season, rather that their range is narrower. The basement and ceiling for Fener’s in-game performances has tightened. With such improved consistency comes serious chemistry upsides. The drawback is that it is dependent on that chemistry aspect. One force of chaos could really mess things up.
Tornike Shengelia is such a force and that’s where Zoc will work back from. Taking out Toko would have been an option with last year’s roster but still a gamble. With this year’s Fener, it’s much more about containment. Slow the impact of him, make the rest of Baskonia work more, grind until they make enough mistakes. It’s not as sexy but it is effective.
Baskonia are under-rated going into this series, yet still I’m saying Fener in a sweep.