Credit: Imago Images - Scanpix
Credit Imago Images - Scanpix

The EuroLeague playoffs hunt gets more and more exciting. A single game in Istanbul showed how to reach the goal and lose the ground under your feet at the same time.

Pierria Henry

Pierria  Henry
Team: Fenerbahce Istanbul
Position: PG, SG
Age: 28
Height: 196 cm
Weight: 89 kg
Birth place: West Virginia, United States of America

Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul captain Melih Mahmutoglu grabbed the rebound, and Pierria Henry requested the ball to start the fast break. He quickly sent the parachute-pass to the other side of the floor and found Achille Polonara finishing the alley-oop play in an old fashion.

Fenerbahce increased their lead to 19 (84-65) and sent Olympiacos to the time-out. But straight after the play, Henry could barely walk.

Devin Booker and Ismet Akpinar suddenly approached their floor general and helped him to reach the bench. Fener's assistant coaches and other players came to help, too.

Just a few possessions before, Henry almost turned the ball over when the pain locked his back, and he hunched forward.

It all started with an unlucky play with 3:38 remaining in the third quarter.

Henry drove to the basket and made a 2 and 1 play with Moustapha Fall's foul. However, he landed badly on his back and couldn't stand up for a minute. 

Akpinar, the backup point guard of Fenerbahce, who saw only 35 minutes of action this season, came in to substitute Henry.

He made a few incredible defensive plays, forcing Olympiacos to lose the ball three times and getting Tyler Dorsey out of control by sending him on the bench with an unsportsmanlike foul.

Don't be fooled by Akpinar's stat line. He finished the game with 1 point on 0 of 4 shooting and -1 PIR. But he set the tone for Fenerbahce's defense, holding the ground at the end of the third quarter.

Henry returned to the floor with Fenerbahce up by 63-57 and orchestrated his team to an 11-2 run (74-59).

Pierria Henry

Pierria  Henry
Pierria  Henry
MIN: 28.73
PTS: 7.94 (44.08%)
REB: 3.72
As: 3.78
ST: 1.89
BL: 0.17
TO: 2.06
GM: 18

Coach Sasa Djordjevic tried to keep his main floor general fresh by resting him on the bench again for a couple of minutes. But Henry finished the game in the locker, leaving the EuroLeague TV reporter without a player of the game interview.

"Yesterday, he got hit in practice. Nevertheless, he wanted to play," Djordjevic revealed in a post-game EuroLeague TV interview after a crucial 94-80 win.

Henry couldn't step aside when Jan Vesely and Nando De Colo were already watching the game from the sidelines.

Henry accumulated 11 points, 8 assists, and 19 PIR despite pain limiting his moves.

"Thanks for Henry. Yesterday he had some pain, but today he started the fight," Melih Mahmutoglu said in a post-game interview.

"The situation for us was not easy because we didn't have the game for 15 days. Nando De Colo and Jan Vesely were out. Now P has something with his back. But he did a great job. All team did a great job. It started with defense, and after that, we found easy shots. We have to continue playing like this," the captain said.

Hard times show true character. Henry showed his real face by playing through injury and stepping up for his team.

Djordjevic had to find who'll cover 25.5 points, the one-third of the team total points, that De Colo and Vesely generated.

But all Fenerbahce players stepped up with their two leaders on the sidelines. Six players scored in double-digits. All 11 who entered the court scored at least 1 point. Also, Fener dished 27 assists, the second-best this season.

They were hungry from the jump ball. As soon as they felt the blood, they punished their laid-back opponent.

"It was a team game. Our defense was really sharp tonight," Djordjevic said in an interview on EuroLeague TV. "Guys were ready and did a great job. 27 assists show that we played as a team. We had some players who stepped up really big, like captain Melih from the bench. But all the others also did a good job. This win was really important for us."

Before setting up an incredible 58-point show in the second half, Fenerbahce had some awkward possessions with low-percentage shots and poor decision-making. Sometimes Fenerbahce found themselves in lucky situations with long buzzer-beaters or off-balance three-pointers.

Despite being in the bottom in 3-point attempts, they actually made a season-high 15 threes (12 in the second half).

But that luck was earned.

For instance, Fenerbahce's defense forced Olympiacos to turn the ball over 16 times (12 in the second half). Seven of these turnovers were by their top-scorer Dorsey.

"The defense obviously is the number one. But everyone knocked down shots today, and that's really what's been for the season. Just knocking down shots and finding players open. And we did that tonight," Dyshawn Pierre, who had 14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in 35 minutes, told on EuroLeague TV.

"Spacing and passing. When we started to move the ball, we found open shots. After that, we had confidence. First, we played good defense. But we need to continue like this. This is the most important thing right now," Mahmutoglu, who was a top-scorer of the game with 17 points, added.

It was a much-needed win for Fenerbahce that helped them to remain competitive in a tight playoff race.

Fenerbahce were on the market for a scorer to replace De Colo, who will be out for around 10+ games. Per BasketNews sources, they were close to signing one of the top scorers of the Spanish ACB, Isaiah Taylor, but he decided to stay in UCAM Murcia.

Vesely is expected to miss around 6-7 games, which leaves Djordjevic with an incredible adjustment to his game plan, as numbers show the great importance of De Colo and Vesely.

All 15 most used Fenerbahce lineups had both of them regardless of whether they were on the court at the same time or not.

So Henry hobbling off the court was the last thing which Djordjevic wanted to see.

"I didn't ask him after the game. But right now, that's my biggest worry," Djordjevic told on EuroLeague TV.

Reaching the playoffs under current circumstances will be a challenging mission for Fenerbahce with Henry or without him. But the grind, team basketball, and all-for-one mentality they approached the 3rd seeded Olympiacos showed they're on a good path. And that's the only way that will lead them to success.

Meanwhile, Fenerbahce were trying to catch the tail of the playoffs, Olympiacos showed how to lose the playoff seed.

"They were better than us and deserved the win," Christos Pappas, the assistant coach of Olympiacos, who replaced Georgios Bartzokas when he was ejected from the game before halftime, told on EuroLeague TV.

"They were more physical and put more pressure. Offensively, we weren't able to cope with that pressure. Many bad options that led to transition offenses."

Olympiacos were punished for their wrong approach on injury-shortened Fenerbahce's lineup. Some things were hard to explain.

For instance, Dorsey ran behind the sidelines in a fastbreak situation that translated into a turnover, one of seven he made last night.

Some threes Fener made were wide open when Olympiacos defense was staring at Polonara or Booker enjoying unlimited freedom beyond the arc.

Fenerbahce were killing Olympiacos in fast breaks, scoring 21 points from the transition offense.

Every 50/50 ball went to Fenerbahce. Because they were falling on the floor, playing through pain, and were hungry for greatness. Second chance points? 0 by Olympiacos.

On top of that, Bartzokas lost control of himself and couldn't stay on the bench until halftime.

That was probably one of the worst mental performances by Olympiacos this year, and for sure, they will learn from it.

This EuroLeague is no joke. Last season, Zalgiris and Valencia were in the Top 8 after Round 17 but ended up being outside the playoffs. Meanwhile, Zenit and Bayern barely managed to hold onto their positions, and eventually, both teams secured their places in the quarterfinal.

Just lose the focus, think you're good enough, and you will fall hard as possible.

We want to hear from you. Be the first to comment!
Thank you for reporting a comment

Add comment

We have the right to remove comments which are offensive, contains abusive language, or violates other rules of the website

Points this season

Points made: 76,9
Accuracy: 49,1%
Place in standings: 9
Record max: 96
Record min: 43
Best scorer: Jan Vesely