It was a rout in Kaunas as Crvena Zvezda took control from the off to kill off Zalgiris within 20 minutes. Emmet Ryan looks at how the Belgrade club continues to confound pre-season expectations
Let’s take this back to before the season where some idiot wrote the following about Crvena Zvezda while picking them to finish 15th of 16 in the regular season:
“Zvezda have got a massive financial disadvantage compared to nearly every other side in Euroleague, have tremendous fanbase, and they have lost a ton of significant bodies…Zvezda’s fans deserve less disappointment but at least they are in a position to come back and contend for the playoffs in a year or two.”
That season preview of mine is proving increasingly ridiculous reading as Crvena Zvezda reminded everyone with a 61-77 road win at Zalgiris that was nowhere near as close as the final scoreline indicated.
The composure on both sides was obvious from the off, it’s no secret that Sarunas Jasikevicius and Dejan Radonjic are two of the hottest coaches in Europe right now, but it was the visitors who quickly took control and never remotely looked like giving it up. Ognjen Kuzmic’s redemption tour was in full swing through the first quarter with the big man looking a new man while Branko Lazic cut through the Zalgiris D at his leisure.
Defence has been the big selling point of Zvezda this season and their home record, keeping every opponent to around 10 points below season averages, is the easy part to remember. Even without the Pionir crowd to back them up, this side knows how to shut down an opponent. It wasn’t just that Zalgiris struggled to make a shot, they had issues flat out creating throughout the opening half. After a quarter it was 7-21, at the half it was 22-47.
Jasikevicius summed it up best just before the start of the third quarter by saying “We’re not playing” and frankly his side wasn’t allowed to play. What makes Zvezda work is their brilliant organisation and discipline. They obviously have some serious ballers but it’s what Radonjic gets out of them that has everyone in Euroleague taking them seriously.
It’s not just the likes of Marko Simonovic and Charles Jenkins, both putting up impressive displays with regularity, that are getting it done. When you can make a guy like Milko Bjelica a player opposing ball-handlers don’t want to go up against, you are doing a heap right. Radonjic is draining every drop of quality out of the guys he has out there. You can see it in the confidence, the ball movement, and the sheer comfort this side shows. Despite being comparatively light on the ground in terms of top tier assets, Radonjic has built this side into a playoff contender. They lost a bunch of crucial bodies from last year and somehow look much better this season. The record is only 8-8, it’s not world-beating, but this team looks far more capable of giving any opponent a serious challenge in the post-season than last year’s edition.
On Friday night they beat a Zalgiris team that has exceeded expectations and made them look like bottom feeders. Few can say they have done that against the Kaunas outfit this season. The opposition may not be playoff bound but the result sent a big message to any side that thinks it can jump Zvezda in the race for the post-season.