It was long past time that BiE had a trip to the BCL so Emmet Ryan visited an old haunt where times are changing. For only the second time this decade, Brose Bamberg are campaigning in Europe without the moniker of German champions. He went to the Brose Arena a couple of weeks back to take in their Basketball Champions League clash with Hapoel Jerusalem and found a town still in love with its team
The walk hasn’t changed and neither has the food. Bamberg is not a place you go to for light dining. Schlenkerla was full on Tuesday evening but Zum Sternla had a spot to sidle into and, reader, it was almost death by pork shoulder.
That’s what you get away from the Brose Arena in Bamberg. A farcically beautiful city, as has been cited a few dozen times on this site, with its own take on some classic. Just the 10 breweries serving the 70,000 inhabitants and the pubs come with some fantastic and filling food. The pork shoulder, with a potato dumpling, and sauerkraut should have been enough but, nope, your correspondent had to be an idiot. Get that apfelstrudel too, what could go wrong. I managed all of 2.5 half litres of smoked beer, gorgeous but filling, before realising I needed a walk and then some.
Fortunately things took a turn for the better as gameday dawned. My bag arrived, a day and a half after me, and I was smart enough to not eat enough food to kill me. The walk around town certainly helped as well but you really couldn’t tell that less than 2 kilometres from the most historic part of a place where 600 and 700 year old buildings were the norm, would be this utter frenzy behind me.
The home side was going to need to noise. Hapoel Jerusalem was in town with a 1 game lead on them in Group D of the Basketball Champions League and Brose Bamberg was barely in the top half of the group on 3-2, leaving it with work to do in the 14 game slate to make it to the next stage. A W here was going to mean a lot.
The goal however had changed substantially. Bamberg had been near mainstays of Euroleague since their dominant run through Bundesliga, winning 7 of their 9 German championships in a 9 year run. There were flirtations with playoff contention but they never got over the line. The switch now to the BCL in lieu of Eurocup means a broad new range of opponents and they have one of the most recognisable names across the sides competing. There’s an assumption that they will make noise in this competition, irrespective of their rocky start.
Tamir Blatt, David’s son, was running the point for the visitors and he was linking up nicely with the tools around him early. Having James Feldeine, one of the top scorers in the competition who was fresh of nailing 9 threes in Jerusalem’s win a week earlier, at his disposal didn’t hurt. An import heavy starting line-up for Jerusalem but not featuring the most recognisable name. Amar’e Stoudemire comes off the bench for this outfit.
The pace was, as is expected for a game here, hot at the start. Games in Freak City tend to begin hot on the back of the crowd. Some sanity kicks in about the middle of the first frame usually and that was the case here. The normal arc is a hot opening, cool down, competitive second, then the third gets wild. Depending on what form wild takes, the fourth can go a few ways.
3.13 from the end of the first, those familiar goggles took the floor, and he was greeted by a three by a man who’d come in just before him. Tyrese Rice, the hero of a Euroleague title win for Maccabi Tel Aviv and a Eurocup triumph for Khimki, is in a unique position as he’s now looking to lead a third club to a third different European crown. He’s also been an offensive force this season.
The PA music feels almost pointless in an arena like this because it truly goes to the beat of its own drums. First time I caught a game here, having enjoyed one of those large dinners, it literally shook my stomach. Having been a touch smarter in the dining the impact was lessened but it was no accident that Dave Hein to my right had earplugs in.
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Some heavy rotations meant the regular script wasn’t quite being followed, with the home side holding a 27-24 lead after 10 minutes. The second began a bit more to plan with Rice and Blatt getting their offences going. The PA finally got a win with the crowd, as L’Amour Toujours by Gigi D’Agostino was jumped on and then, oh my, the one all German basketball fans go for…I’m Irish and was a teenager in the 1990s, therefore by rule I must like Scooter, but Maria just seems like it exists for very loud basketball fans to get even louder. It was far more impressive when the fans tried L’Amour Toujours without musical backing a few minutes later.
A brief lull after a series of errors brought a touch of quiet and a guttural, and frankly painful sounding, eugh came from a dude behind me. Through the timeout the crowd stayed quiet for a middle aged chap trying a shooting challenge. The prize was an E-Bike from the sponsors, he didn’t pull it off but still got something for his troubles.
Stoudemire and Rice both sat as the two sides sought to get some rhythm back. J’Covan Brown, wearing 69, fed Josh Owens for an alley-oop that gave Jerusalem its first two possession lead of the night midway through the frame. Then Augustin Rubit had a mini-run to calm the nerves of the home side. Still, this was the saner type of play that’s largely expected as games approach half-time in Brose Arena. Through the championship years and this new era, where Bayern’s the ascendant power in Bundesliga, the second quarters of Bamberg games often feel like they are about working out exactly how they are going to strike following the break.
Rice and Stoudemire were back to close out the frame, with little having changed in terms of control. Not a lot happened in their mini contributions to close the half. Bamberg led 43-41. The crowd awaited the crazy.
Brown found Owens for another alley-oop, not quite the explosion the home fans were hoping for but Rubit was running right with them. Then Stevan Jelovac put together a four point play and we were off and running. Rice was getting hungry but not having a whole lot of luck. Nikos Zisis still moves like a much younger man but he was being kept from probing despite his nifty footwork. Brown drew an unsportsmanlike from him and then back came Amre. Quiet through the first half, the five time NBA All Star’s rushed to back up a fallen Brown beside Jelovac following some incidental contact. Stoudemire stared down the Serbian, only to surrender another four point play to him on the next possession. Feldeine lofted an alley oop for Amar’e but it was just off and Stoudemire only found iron.
Despite the individual contributions from Jelovac and Rubit, Bamberg weren’t creating any real separation on the scoreboard. Rice and Maurice Stuckey had a mini conference an the baseline as the hosts kept the gap at two possessions and no more. Amar’e meanwhile was getting angry with mixed results but he hindered Rice’s efforts and then got a big score over Cliff Alexander to keep this one tight, 67-62, going into the last 10 minutes.
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Stoudemire cooled his head and started getting smarter with his movement, drawing a couple of fouls quickly to quell any efforts by Bamberg to build momentum. Blatt was in his face beforehand to call the next play and the guard found Stoudemire for a dunk quickly to close the gap to the minimum. Rice managed to get under his skin quickly enough afterwards, slipping into a foul to force him to take a seat on 4 in just 15 minutes of action.
You could sense that bit more tension in the crowd as even the wild fans behind press row took the odd pause to gather what was going down. Offensively, they were just irrelevant through the first few minutes of the fourth and had let Jerusalem go on a 14-3 run to move into their biggest lead of the night. The fourth quarter is normally Tyrese time here but he wasn’t getting anything done.
Instead the load was being carried hard by Rubit to drag Bamberg back into the action but Owens and Brown were just as hungry to show they could take over while Amar’e sat. Rice being unable to turn floaters into buckets really wasn’t much help. With Hapoel getting too many second chance opportunities, the individual groans from the stands could be heard even through the wall of noise. The visitors were pawing away without much difficulty.
Rice looked over to Ainars Bagatskis and gave the coach a nod as he waved instructions. They’ve both seen situations like this more times than they could remember and Rice is a confident man. He wasn’t going to let the previous 38 minutes distract from the job ahead in the final 2. Finally the big one from deep by Rice to make it a one possession game. Patrick Heckmann with the board on defence. Things were fired up and then a blown play leading to a pass into nowhere by Heckmann elicited the groans once more. TaShawn Thomas left no doubt with the dunk to punish Bamberg.
🎁 Nice dish, better finish @J_cowens! 🛬
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) November 14, 2018
Every time those groans had their moment, the roars of encouragement resumed. The fans here were disappointed at mistakes but they loved the fight all the same. Rubit gave them hope once more from the line. Bamberg needed a stop. Brown stalked Rubit and looked to draw the foul only to be called on a travel. 15.1 seconds to save the evening.
Once more they rose, for one final offence. Rice went for a jog, looked to move inside and for no logical reason Hapoel didn’t foul him while up three. He failed to do anything with it but there’d be one last chance, an inounds with 1.3 seconds on the clock. Zisis nearly got called for a violation but squeezed a bounce pass to rise who got one off and it rolled around the inside. Hapoel held on, 85-88.
Bagatskis was calm in defeat. Heckmann understandably was in no mood for the press conference but was polite and said his few words. In Spain, playoff rivals Fuenlabrada had surprisingly lost at home to Nymburk to ensure to give those in Bamberg a break. The following Sunday Bamberg would fall to Alba Berlin in Der Klassiker before heading back into BCL action against Nymburk. That time they’d get the W but there was some bad news to come off the court. Drama as their chief executive was ousted before he was due to step down due to financial irregularities. That, however, is a story for another day.
On this Wednesday night, with a hint of winter, the road to the next round had just got a little harder for Bamberg but this city was with its team.
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