Beautiful in their own way: reasons to be excited about upcoming BCL final

Edvinas Jablonskis
Daily Editor
2022-05-07 06:00
Credit: FIBA

The Basketball Champions League trophy once again will remain in Spain after Lenovo Tenerife beat Hapoel U-Net Holon 78-71 and BAXI Manresa edged MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg 63-55.

Since the first season in 2016-17, Spanish clubs missed the final only once (in 2017-18) and won the title thrice (Tenerife in 2016-17, and San Pablo Burgos in 2019-20 & 2020-21).

In the first semifinal, Tenerife showed why the experience at this stage of the season matters. Well, to be exact, Marcelinho Huertas and Giorgi Shermadini showed that age is just a number.

Player of the Game
Chima  Moneke
Chima Moneke
Points 13
Accuracy 4-7
Rebounds 13
Assists 0

Despite the fact that there are 71 years between those two players, both of them were Tenerife's top scorers.

38-year-old Huertas finished the game with 17 points (8/14 2PT, 1/2 FT), 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 turnover, and 23 EFF. Shermadini, 33, contributed with 14 points (6/6 2PT, 2/5 FT), 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, and 17 EFF.

But it wasn't just the veterans' numbers that showed why Tenerife were a better team.

After building a 12-point lead in the first quarter (20-8), Tenerife managed to keep a safe distance for almost an entire game.

Hapoel Holon brought their 1000 fans army from Israel and were heavily supported, trying to make a comeback.

The first attempt came in the second quarter when Joe Ragland sank a 3-pointer and cut the deficit to four points (16-20). Moments later, Shermadini answered with a fadeaway jump shot after Huertas' assist. In the next possession, the Brazilian guard made his own basket and brought back an 8-point lead to Tenerife (24-16).

However, in the same quarter, Holon closed the gap to four points again after Rafael Menco made a 3-pointer (22-26). Yet, Bruno Fitipaldo answered back, Huertas provided an assist to Joan Sastre, and Tenerife once again had a comfortable lead (31-22).

To make things easier, I won't write all of this back-and-forth battle, but I'll give you the number. After trailing by double digits in the first quarter, Holon cut the deficit to 5 or fewer points seven times. Seven. And every single time, Tenerife bounced back to build a safer lead.

There was one exception though. With 3:47 remaining in the 4th quarter, Menco made another 3-pointer and gave Holon the first and only lead of the game (69-68).

Did Tenerife get flustered? Not a chance. The Spanish club finished the game with a 10-2 run and qualified for the final. Huertas provided 3 points, and 1 assist in this stretch, while Shermadini added a hook shot.

So, what's the secret behind that stress-free flow, which allowed to keep afloat every time Holon tried to make its push?

"I think we controlled the situations of their [ball] handlers better," Huertas told BasketNews after the game. "They were moving the ball too easy in pick&roll situations and found open shots."

"We were able to control players with the ball, seeing whether it's worth to attack them or not. This allowed us to be more solid and stay in front of our guys. In the end, they made some tough shots, but they also had to take many difficult shots. Some of them didn't go in, and we secured rebounds," Huertas added.

Watching the game, you could tell that Tenerife would win no matter what. Every time Holon tried to take the momentum, Tenerife found answers, and their calmness in every possession and situation made the viewers believe that they will take care of business.

That's where the experience comes into action once again. Players like Huertas (38), Shermadini (33), Aaron Doornekamp (36), Fitipaldo (30), Sastre (30), or Kyle Wiltjer (29) have seen it all at the highest level. 

Tenerife's calm and calculated approach in the most crucial moments at such a stage of the competition gave chills. Their measured possessions, the treasure of the ball, calculated plays, cuts, and moves were like a well-oiled machine. 

"It's a big advantage," Holon's head coach Guy Goodes answered BasketNews' question about Huertas and Shermadini's experience in the press conference. "They are experienced players, and I know Marcelinho and Shermadini very well from my days in Maccabi Tel Aviv."

"It's a big advantage when you have two players who were all over the world at these stages. The atmosphere doesn't affect them, they remain emotionally stable. And that advantage [was even] bigger at the end.

Two minutes before the halftime, and two minutes, in the end, I think the game could have gone either way. But this experience won the game for them," Goodes finished his detailed answer.

And the most beautiful thing about Huertas? If we are talking about Friday's game, it's his volleyball-esque pass that led to Doornekamp's 3-pointer. Speaking in general, it's that his desire to play remains the same as when he took the basketball for the very first time in his hand.

"It feels good just being out there, doing what I love," 38-year-old Huertas told BasketNews. "As long as I can have this level of energy, ambition, and hunger for the game, I will be out there. And when my legs can't do it anymore, it will be time to quit."

"About the pass… I was about to shoot, but the ball just slipped out of my hands, and I saw two of their big guys coming to me. So, I tapped it to the corner, and it was a really big and important shot for us," Huertas concluded.

Up next, it will be a well-known opponent for Tenerife, their fellow ACB competitor BAXI Manresa.

A matchup that Chima Moneke called back in February, as he reminded himself about it after the win over Ludwigsburg.

Contrary to Tenerife, it will be the first Manresa's final in the Basketball Champions League. Moreover, it will be the first BAXI final in European competition in the club's history. Furthermore, this season, Manresa reached the knock-out stages in European competition for the first time since 1972 when they played in the Korac Cup quarterfinal.

Contrary to Tenerife, whose squad's age average age is 30.0, Manresa's roster age average is only 25.7. If we exclude the 40-year-old Rafa Martinez, this number drops to 24.6.

Contrary to Tenerife's calm and calculated approach, Manresa plays fast, electric, and entertaining basketball, often highlighted by Ismael Bako, Yankuba Sima, or Moneke's dunks.

There's another big contrast between those two teams money-wise. According to 2Playbook data, Tenerife generated a 7.2 million euros budget this season, of which 3.5 million went to players' salaries. Manresa's numbers are way more modest: a general budget of 2.7 million euros and 1.5 million for salaries.

Despite all these differences and, to an extent, disadvantages, Manresa are here to fight.

"Tenerife is a very experienced team. They've been in these situations before, while we are new to this," Yankuba Sima told BasketNews in the press conference. "But we're not scared at all."

"It's going to be a 40-minute fight inside the court – one team against another. The good thing is that we played against them recently. So, we know what the game plan is going to be and how they play. It will be a 40-minute dogfight, and we'll try to make history with this team," Sima added.

Just like the 25-year-old mentioned, both teams met recently. Like really recently. Tenerife hosted Manresa one week ago in an ACB game and won it 94-83, so the memories are more than fresh.

However, does it make Tenerife a bad matchup for Manresa?

"Tenerife is one of the best teams in this competition," Manresa's head coach Pedro Martinez started his answer to the BasketNews question. "I think Tenerife's head coach told yesterday that they played in the last 5 or 6 Basketball Champions League Final 8 stages."

"They have maybe 3 times bigger budget than us. They're a common team in ACB that regularly plays in the semifinal or at least playoffs of the Spanish league. We're a small club, it's our first final. 

Now, the only thing that we want is to recover physically and to have a chance to compete against them. They're the favorites of the competition. We have a dream to compete against them, but we perfectly know our situation," added Martinez.

After reading all this, it might feel like Manresa's chances in the final are pretty bleak. Well, that's not entirely the case.

Firstly, being an underdog in the final is not a bad thing. What Manresa have achieved is already incredible, so the pressure to win the title will be on Tenerife's side.

Moreover, BAXI can expect even bigger support from their incredible fans, who occupied the Bilbao arena in the semifinal. There's no doubt that it will be a home game for Manresa in terms of support and atmosphere.

The game against Ludwigsburg also showed that Manresa could adapt. They entered the Final 4 as the best team in assists (21.8 per game on average) and had the second-best offensive rating among the Final 4 teams with 112.4 points per 100 possessions.

However, despite being an offensive-orientated side, BAXI managed to lock up the best defensive team of the tournament, MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg.

The German team scored only 20 points in the second half (6 of them in the 4th quarter) and finished the game with 55 points, their second-worst performance of the season.

It was far from a perfect night for Manresa as well, as they finished with 63 points, 12 assists, and 20% shooting from the 3-point zone (3/15 3PT). Despite that, it was enough to qualify for the championship game.

"That's what Ludwigsburg wanted, and they're a great team for a reason. That's why they're in the Final 4. But we can play in a different style, too. We are not done yet, at all," Moneke said after the game.

Veteran experience versus youthful enthusiasm. Basketball Champions League playoffs regulars versus the rookies. Favorites versus the underdogs.

Buckle up, Basketball Champions League final is about to deliver.


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