Credit: V.Sodeika, Tatyana Makeyeva/TASS - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration
Credit V.Sodeika, Tatyana Makeyeva/TASS - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration

BasketNews continues the 3x3 EuroLeague edition, where three of our colleagues will give three answers to three questions.

This week, Orazio Cauchi, Miguel Lois Vidal, and Uygar Karaca will look at the upcoming EuroLeague final rematch between Anadolu Efes Istanbul and FC Barcelona, William Howard's buzzer-beater controversy, and a recent AX Armani Exchange Milan slump.

William Howard's buzzer-beater of the year. Do you think referees made the correct decision?

Orazio: I'm not exactly an expert on these kinds of decisions, and I'm definitely happy that I wasn't one of the referees during that game.

But based on what I saw so far and the statement released by EuroLeague, I believe that the referees made the right call on that last-second shot.

I'm not entirely sure that the ball had completely left Howard's hand because that particular frame of the image is not super clear, but from the other images, it looks like the stoplights on the basket were still off when the ball was about to leave Howard's hand. It was a very difficult call, but I think they made the right one.

Miguel: It is one of the hardest decisions I have ever seen. Even with the instant replay system, it is not easy to say what exactly happened.

It was closer than the Hamilton-Verstappen's rivalry. The EuroLeague has said they were right, so nothing to complain about it. I am sure TJ Parker did not draw this play after the timeout. 

Uygar: This one was extremely tough. It reminded me of the 2008 Olympic 100m butterfly final between Micheal Phelps and Milorad Cavic, which turned out to be very decisive in Phelps' historic 8 medal mission.

The margin was so small that nobody could see who touched the wall first, so it became a great controversy in Beijing.

Coming back to Monaco, in my view, the clock started perhaps 0.1 secs late, and the moment of the ball release was just on the 0.0 sec, so probably, Williams' buzzer-beater should not have been counted valid despite, it actually beat the buzzer on paper.  

Credit EuroLeague

On the latter point, the whole situation echoed the limitations of time and the truth. Everything looks fine when we look at the shot clock only if we disregard the ill-calibration of the shot clock mechanism.

Then, the truth becomes relative. But beyond these philosophical inferences, there should be a backup time checking mechanism that extends the decimals margins (like 0.1) into hundreds of seconds.

That is what they do to evade confusion in the Olympics finals in athletics. I am not a time-keeper in these EuroLeague games but, I have the impression about the lack of it. That could have been very handy if it existed. 

Milano slump: what do you think caused it and is it worth worrying?

Orazio: Milan had won 8 of the first 9 games, but now they found themselves in a bit of a slump, having lost three games in a row, two of them were played away from home.

The home/away factor is something that we need to think about. Milan had played 6 of the first 9 games at home, a huge advantage in the first part of the schedule, which the team coached by Ettore Messina took full advantage of.

Two of the last three losses came away from home, in the trip to Russia against UNICS and Zenit. In such a long season, losing some games on the road, it's not something so unusual, even for a team with Final Four ambitions.

But, of course, there've been other reasons for this slump. The rotations have been shorter due to the injuries of Delaney and Mitoglou and the absence of Moraschini.

Delaney is now back and will definitely help, but there's still work to do in the frontcourt as Melli and Hines are now forced to do overtime. That's why Armani Exchange decided to go back on the market, and they're about to sign Ben Bentil.

Defense, which was a main force for the team in the past few weeks, has lost some energy and intensity, probably due to the shorter rotations. Personally, I'm not particularly worried about these last losses, I think it's just a bit of a slump. I'm pretty sure that Milan will get back on track soon.

Miguel: This is not an easy question. First of all, I'd say Mitoglou's absence. He is essential in Milano.

Like most of the teams, the Italian powerhouse struggled in its Russian tour. When you play in your domestic league, and then there is a demanding trip like this, it can happen. Madrid lost one game at Kazan too. After that, Olympiacos played excellently.

However, there's nothing to be worried about. Messina has built a great team with talented and experimented players. They have shown chemistry and good offensive spacing, but he needs to manage key players' minutes properly. EuroLeague's Regular Season is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Uygar: I think we need to roll the story a little bit back to the first weeks. To what extent Milano's 8-1 was a good reflection of what they deserve? When observed from this perspective, the slump does not become a slump, it turns to be regression towards a more realistic display of their overall quality as a team.

This suggestion should not be read as: "All right, let's throw Milano's impressive wins against Barcelona, Efes, and CSKA out of the window all together" but we also need to remind ourselves that they overcame all these important opponents when the opponents were having problems of some sort.

Among them, the Barcelona game was special in the positive sense, but Milano could still have lost that game. Coming to their problems, as it was revealed in the past two weeks their offense does not look natural and lacks rhythm and fluidity.

That leaves Milano's offensive rating contingent on individual effort, which hardly brings stability. Their offensive rating was pretty poor, even though in those days they were winning. (currently 8th, 97 points per 100 possessions).

Since the day he arrived from NBA, Messina imposed high-control, low-tempo basketball, which is not easy to maintain given the extended number of games in today's basketball.

In addition to that, they have a relatively high rate of the catch-n-shoot type of offense, which was dependent on Shavon Shields, Devon Hall, Gigi Datome, and Konstantinos Mitoglu's daily shooting efficiency, and their rigid type of set structure hindered possible practical solutions when they are not in their prime during a game.

I like this team being hard on defense and showing their willingness to win in almost every game, it is not going to be enough for some of the nights. And if you are faced with some free-flowing UNICS type of team in the offense, it will be hard for them to catch up.

Defense needs intensity, which can be lost in double game weeks (Zenit and UNICS), and once the self-confidence is lost and injuries start to culminate, you find yourself in those kinds of mini-crisis situations.

They looked for remedy in the market as a first reaction, but they need to let this team show its high basketball IQ in the offense, as the roster contains that merit. Too much control kills it. 

What's your prediction for EuroLeague final repeat between Anadolu Efes and Barcelona?

Orazio: The game between Anadolu Efes and Barcelona is going to be a must-watch this week. Efes are getting back on track after a slow start, they'll have the home factor, and they'll have extra motivation to beat their rivals of the last Final Four.

Barcelona have to deal with several absences, especially the ones of Calathes and Higgins. Their offensive firepower will be reduced, and coach Jasikevicus has to rely a lot more on Laprovittola and Jokubaitis.

Personally, I see Anadolu Efes as the favorite in the match, but it'll be a very interesting game to watch.

Miguel: First time since they met in Koln. Obviously, Barcelona want revenge. It won't be easy for the Blaugrana, which will be without Calathes and Higgins.

Davies also played more than 100 minutes in 72 hours with Uganda this weekend, which could make the difference. It will be a big test for Jokubaitis and Laprovittola. Will they be able to control the game?

Efes are getting better. They have won 6 of their last 8 games. Larkin has landed, while Micic is still in shape. If Ataman finds a productive role for Petrusev... The Champs are back to their rhythm. I'll bet for them.

Uygar: I think Barcelona for this one. Efes will have a huge crowd and come a long way from their rustiness and sub-standard performances from the beginning of the season, but they are still a little bit far away from last season's level.

They still have problems defending their 3-point zone as they are given the highest amount of attempted and made 3-pointers in the entire league (their opponents hit 3s with 37%, Top5 among the league).

In addition to that, the rotation in the paint is still questionable, both offensively and defensively. Dunston is still out of form, Petrusev is sometimes outmuscled, and despite showing some good signs lately, Singleton's contribution is unstable, which leaves a heavy burden for Tibor Pleiss.

Pleiss did extremely well in recent games, but against Barcelona, you need more than that. It seems that Shane Larkin is upgraded into the driver's seat, but Barcelona's defensive lines are tough to be penetrated. They have the second-best defensive rating after Real Madrid.

Of course, Barcelona lack two important guards in Nick Calathes and Cory Higgins. But yet, they maintain their overall variability in the offense with Jokubaitis and Laprovittola at the office.  

Both players are willing to accept the playmaker role because they finally found the opportunity to enjoy an extended time as the primary ball carriers. Laprovittola uses his pick-n-roll abilities to create shot, find Kyle Kuric off-screen, or deliver the ball to the post to Davies, Mirotic, or Hayes.

Jokubaitis can push the tempo at will and feed the rolling and/or popping big player while driving towards the rim. Against ASVEL, Burgos, and Zalgiris, this duo made 35 assists in total. They will force Efes' defense to move constantly, and it will be hard for the home side to cope with that dynamic.

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