Two teams that found themselves left at the doorstep of last spring’s Final Four take each other’s measure at a key early juncture of this season when FC Bayern Munich welcomes Real Madrid to Bavaria for Round 8’s Game of the Week on Friday.
Before last spring, when Bayern and Real were joined by Zenit St Petersburg as Game 5 playoffs road losers, never before had any EuroLeague teams played as many as 39 games only to fall just short of their main goal.
For Bayern, the pill was perhaps more bitter to swallow because they lost Game 1 on the road to a miraculous play by AX Armani Exchange Milan – but otherwise did plenty to win the series. Still, it was not enough for the first German playoffs qualifier ever to reach the Final Four.
Real, accustomed to playing in Final Fours and winning titles, came back from two blowout losses to last season’s favorite and eventual champion, Anadolu Efes Istanbul, to make their series go the distance. Real, however, is always confident that it will have more such opportunities.
Bayern made its historic run to the playoffs last season based on comebacks and late-game proficiency. Almost half of its victories, 11 out of 23, came after Bayern had trailed in those games by at least 10 points. Largely based on those comebacks, Bayern won 14 of 18 games decided by 6 points or less.
Following the close losses to Milan in Game 1 and Game 5 of the playoffs, Bayern began this season losing its first two road games by a total of 4 points on the way to a 0-4 record. But just as soon as Bayern rediscovered its late-game mojo, beating Zalgiris Kaunas 73-75 in Round 5 on the road after having trailed by 16, it’s like a switch was pushed.
Next, Bayern avenged its playoffs defeat by handing visiting Milan its first loss of this season, then it went up-country to wallop rival ALBA Berlin 69-82 on the road in the German derby.
It’s no coincidence that team captain Vladimir Lucic only returned from injury for those last three wins, and his presence tonight will be essential to confronting a Real team that has a 5-2 record but has struggled to score on the road. Its 67.0 points per game away from home is 13 fewer than Real’s average road scoring during its first 11 seasons under head coach Pablo Laso.
Bayern’s roster has changed more since Real swept their two games last season and tonight the hosts will be tested, especially around the basket, to keep their winning streak alive.
The Spaniards still revolve around their man in the middle, 2.20-meter center Walter Tavares, who is the EuroLeague’s top performer to date with a PIR of 22.2 per game. What’s more, when Tavares missed a game to witness the birth of his child, 2.13-meter Vincent Poirer stepped up with a club-record 17 rebounds.
Bayern is smaller and older in the middle, with veterans Othello Hunter (2.03 meters), Augustin Rubit (2.03), Lucic (2.04) as the tallest available players besides young Gavin Schilling (2.06), who has played just 4 minutes on average to date.
So the stage is clearly set. Bayern will have to make the most of its perimeter game, with swingman Darrun Hilliard, point guard Corey Walden and shooter Nick Weiler-Babb. And Madrid will likely pound the ball inside to its big men, including new power forward Guerschon Yabusele, who will likely match up with DeShaun Thomas.
It’s still early times, but what these two teams have in common is a strong desire to return to the playoffs, but this time with home-court advantage, so the Game 5s they lost last year are not on the road. That means finishing in the top four, and to claim that privileged position at the end of the regular season, every game truly counts. Both these teams know that well, which should make Round 8’s last game well worth the wait.
Seen at: Euroleague.net