Euroleague Women Quarterfinals: The Last Normal Games

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With 1:20 left in the thrilling Nadezhda Orenburg-Lyon Euroleague quarterfinals on March 11th, there was a timeout on the floor and I noted something that I never had before then. As Orenburg discussed switching on pick-and-rolls, the camera caught a player coughing into a tissue on the sidelines. I don’t have any reason to believe that the player has anything wrong with her. But, I usually don’t even notice anyone more than a foot away from me coughing let alone note a player coughing during the final minute of a great basketball game. 

That was the moment I realized that the coronavirus would change everything about our lives for a while. I couldn’t put it out of my mind during the biggest moment of one of the most fun basketball games in 2020. Then, Utah Jazz Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the NBA suspended play, and the sports world came to a screeching halt. Euroleague Women is cancelled. The NCAA basketball tournaments are cancelled. The WNBA has yet to be officially affected, but the CDC’s recommendation to postpone mass gatherings of 50 or more for 8 weeks (until May 10) may force the W to change plans. However, THIS IS NOT A STORY ABOUT CORONAVIRUS. Huw Hopkins of The Basketball Writers wrote a good one and here’s some good guidance on social distancing from The Atlantic.

This is a story of the two relatively normal basketball games that took place before all that. The Euroleague Quaterfinals were, for the most part, just basketball games (despite two of the quaterfinals match-ups getting cancelled: UMMC-BLMA and USK Praha-Familia Schio). As they are the last games we will get for a while, I’m going to analyze TF out of them to celebrate this sport and get through this scary time. Let’s get to it.

Nadezhda Orenburg 80, Lyon 77 

This game had an absolutely wild ending and I want to go through the last five minutes in depth.

The end of the game starts with Lyon’s (and Seattle’s) Alysha Clark missing a mid-ranger from the top of the key with 4:37 left. First, shouts to Helena Ciak for a pancake screen. Clark finished with a team-high 18 points and 8 rebounds while providing great defense. She also struggled from outside the paint (1-5) and only had one made basket in the fourth quarter.

After Marième Badiane got a strip, Julie Allemand (who recently signed with the Indiana Fever) got the ball and took off. She made it from her own foul line all the way to the rim for an easy layup in about 3 seconds. Allemand showed off her speed and vision all game with 10 points. She has to refine her skills to get WNBA minutes, but fans should be excited about Allemand’s potential.

Lyon is now trailing by just 5 after being down by double digits earlier in the quarter. The crowd (restricted to 1,000 fans) was going wild at this point. The PA announcer, who really left it all on the mic during this game, was yelling “TURBO, TURBO, TURBO” and got the fans to do a Viking clap. I don’t know entirely what he meant by “turbo,” but I was also screaming turbo at my laptop screen.

Orenburg quickly shut them up with a three from Anastasiia Shilova off a wonderful mid-air assist from Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe. Nayo and Shilova poured 18 points each to lead the team in scoring. Nayo was extremely impressive. She was able to bully smaller defenders or run past slower bigs. She showed a lot of the tools you want from a modern 4 (facing-up for dribble drives, post moves, vision), but it’s still very hard to evaluate bigs in European competition because of the lack of adequate competition.

After Lyon stalled on the next offensive possession and two Erica Wheeler free throws, the real fireworks started to fly around the 3 minute mark. With a 10-point lead, Orenburg for some reason decides to switch to a 2-3 zone as Lyon marches out a lineup with four sharpshooters (Ingrid Tanqueray, Clark, Allemand, and Johannes). Of course, Lyon makes them pay immediately with a Tanqueray three to pull within 7. Tanqueray provided a huge spark off the bench with 12 points on 4/6 shooting from three. Orenburg scrapped the zone after this.

Unfortunately, Tanqueray couldn’t handle Erica Wheeler. The Fever’s All-Star had a rough shooting night (2/6 for 10 points). But she got pretty much anywhere she wanted and made great decisions to finish with 7 assists. After toying with and blowing by Tanqueray, Wheeler found Shilova for her second-straight three from the left corner.

On the other end, NO ONE could handle Marine Johannes. She drove right across the lane and sealed off her defender for a tough righty layup. Johannes was brilliant all night. She put up 24 points and 3 assists. She was the most athletic and most creative player in this game.

Then, Wheeler comes down, dances past Johannes swiping at the ball, and finds Shilova for her third three pointer in the last four possession. Shilova finished the night 6 of 7 from deep and pretty much ended the game here. According to inpredictable’s win probability calculator, Orenburg has a 100% chance of winning (and they do).

HOWEVA, Lyon went down fighting. First, Allemand and Badiane run a perfect pick-and-roll for an easy layup to pull within 9. Wheeler missed a wide-open layup after slicing up the Lyon defense almost as if she was surprised at how easily she got to the rim. Then, Allemand pushes the ball up court and finds Marine darting to the rim for an acrobatic layup. 7-point game. Orenburg timeout (which I talked about in the intro).

Somehow (we don’t know how because the feed didn’t show the actual inbound pass), Alysha Clark knocked the inbound pass away and Allemand saves it to give Lyon another possession. Tanqueray misses a three, but Clark gets a grown woman rebound in traffic. Johannes finally gets the ball, spins off a screen and gets fouled as her layup attempt rolls off the rim. She makes one of two, but the play encapsulated Lyon’s late-game effort and how talented this group is.

Lyon turned up the pressure and forced a turnover on the other end. In transition, Marine threw a wild pass to Julie Allemand, who found a WIDE OPEN Tanqueray on the three point line. Bang, three-point game. Erica Wheeler missed a free throw on the other end, so Lyon stayed alive.

Alysha Clark bullied Wheeler off a switch to get right under the basket. She drew a foul and hit the layup for a three-point play. One-point game. Lyon’s stars all played very smart basketball down the stretch. It’s a shame that they couldn’t get going earlier.

Then, Anastasia Shilova hit another dagger three pointer. Orenburg whipped the ball around as Lyon doubled (and seemingly intentionally fouled to no call). I don’t know much about Shilova to be honest. But based on this game, she is a cold-blooded assassin with a quick trigger. While Lyon probably should have gotten a foul call here, Shilova was ready and ended the game (again) with 9 seconds left.

BUT MARINE DON’T QUIT. She flew down court and pulled up from Curry range for a three. Just unbelievable grit from Marine and Lyon to make this a game every time it was over. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Lyon, with no timeouts left, got a foul with 2 seconds left and Shilova makes one of two at the line to make it 80-78. Marine missed the half-court heave. As soon as the game ended, I knew it would be a personal classic. Lyon’s late-game effort in the face of almost sure defeat was exciting and inspiring even though it fell short.

Then, basketball went dark. If you read all that, thank you for indulging me. I know it may have been long and/or too detailed. But honestly, I didn’t want to look too far ahead. I wanted to remain in the heat of this game to feel the normalcy of it and remember that we’ll have games like this again soon enough.

Fenerbahce 84, Bourges 75  

I promise this game recap will be shorter. Fenerbachce jumped on Bourges early and didn’t let them get up.

We gotta start with Elizabeth Williams’s huge night. The Atlanta Dream’s starting center bullied her way to 30 points on 14/16 shooting and 14 rebounds. She didn’t take a shot from outside the paint because she didn’t have to. Williams is 6’4″ and 198 pounds of solid muscle. With Natalie Achonwa departing before the game, Bourges really had no one that could even slow down Williams. She just moved people in her way, skied over them for rebounds or passes, and left a trail of bodies behind her. It’s encouraging to see Williams get what would be her WNBA career-high in points. But the predictive value of this game is unclear since she’ll face much bigger and better competition in the W. 

Chelsea Gray also suited up for Fenerbache. But the WNBA Champion and 3-time All-Star came off the bench as the 3rd guard. Gray has only been played four games with Fener and the pairing of Cecilia Zandalasini and Alina Iagupova is just too good to break up. The duo combined for 30 points and each had dazzling plays.

Iagupova, 28 years old, is more advanced as a ball handler and passer (she finished with 8 assists) than Zandalasini, 24. But Ceci has really pushed the limits of her game in Europe. She has a very quick step back and can finish in traffic. They really compliment each other well and I’d love to see them play together in the league. Zandi is returning to the Minnesota Lynx, which is great news. But Iagupova seems unlikely to join play in the WNBA in 2020 as LA has her rights and very full roster (although I haven’t heard anything about her).

On Bourges’s end, Marissa Coleman and Ana Dabovic stood out. Coleman, a 9-year WNBA vet, last played in the W in 2018 for the New York Liberty. At 33, She’s probably close to the end of her career, but she balled out in this one with a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds). Coleman was the only Bourges player consistently getting penetration and hit some tough shots in traffic. Dabovic lead the team in scoring with 20 points. It was a quiet 20 points, but she scored from all over and cut very well. She hasn’t played in the US since winning the 2016 title with LA and since they still have her rights, it’s unlikely we will see her in the W in 2020.

That’s all I got on these two games. Stay safe, be cautious, and keep checking in with us. We’ll get through this together.

 

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