Блог Этторе Мессины о баскетболе

Теги Этторе Мессина Теренс Моррис ЦСКА чемпионат России Turkish Airlines Euroleague Сиена

Going small might go a long way

After the Christmas break we had a good start. The team was refreshed, all players were healthy and returned with a great desire to play together. We had a very good game in Istanbul, against Efes, even though Efes wasn’t at its top level at the moment. We won by a wide margin what gave us the opportunity to use all our players. However, there was one thing I was worried about. Terence Morris, not being part of our roster for the Russian Superleague, started to lose confidence. Even though we won some big games in Russian league, I felt something was going on under the water.

Our loss to Partizan was awful because we didn’t show any sign of desire. At our level players subconsciously become too aware of the risk of getting an injury when the result of the game cannot affect the standings. Yet, it doesn’t justify our poor performance. We had a tough week after that because we talked a lot to understand what was going on. The players really helped me to understand what was needed from the team at that moment. They also stepped up by assuming more responsibility and becoming more focused.

The most important thing that the team communicated to me was the idea that some of our players, especially the new ones, were playing with a fear to make a mistake. It’s clear that if you’re afraid to make a mistake, you cannot play. Our veterans let me understand that we need to do something to be more positive with these players. At the same time, we implemented a couple of new offensive situations that helped our power forwards to touch the ball more often as we had excellent players in that position. The diagnosis was done, but we needed an extra effort from our players as we only had a couple of weeks before the Top 16. We’ve got a tough group, but the one we would cross, should we eventually advance to the playoffs, is even tougher.

Our win against Dynamo, in my opinion, will prove to be one of the turning points for us this season. We were down from the beginning, playing with less confidence, but somehow we managed to come up with a much better second half both defensively and offensively. After that we had an excellent game against UNICS despite the fact that J R had to fly to the US for family reasons. So we seemed to be ready to play an opening game in Istanbul that we knew would be pivotal. If we win this one on the road, all Top 16 would have a different outlook.

We knew that we were going to play without Matjaz who sprained his ankle. We talked a lot with coaches and I also asked some of our veteran players what they think about starting small, with Terence and Viktor [Khryapa] in the starting five. I wanted to acknowledge the effort of Terence who practiced real hard for three weeks. He was getting more confidence and I was getting more confidence in him. We thought that with his athleticism and his ability he could be a problem for Ulker. At the same time, Viktor was playing very consistently. I think Viktor is having a very good season. I was joking with my coaches that Viktor is our Scottie Pippen who can cover all five positions. He gives a lot of versatility to our game. Another reason, without Matjaz we didn’t want to start Erazem, because we were afraid of two quick fouls.

The team accepted this idea which made the difference. You might have all the ideas in the world, but if your players do not feel it’s a good idea and do not play with their heart, it won’t fly. Once on the court, our players played with heart, with personality and immediately put the game into the direction we wanted it to go. It helped Erazem to come later and be a factor in the game.

We decided to continue going small in the second Top 16 game against Cibona thus allowing Matjaz to come into the game smoothly without too much responsibility on his shoulders. Playing small can be a gamble defensively, because if you find a ‘five’ who attacks your ‘four’ with pounding the ball inside, it might become a problem. This is what happened with Cibona when Terence picked up two quick fouls. However, Terence is an excellent shot-blocker. Even if he doesn’t have the body to protect the paint, he has an incredible ability to jump and force the offensive player to adjust the shot, often missing it. For sure, Terence plays better when he has a lot of playing time. But I cannot give him many minutes every time.

When going small, on offense, we need to find some balance between an inside game and an outside game, because both Viktor and Terence are better face to the basket, than back to the basket. So we decided to use more Zoran and Siskauskas in the low post which is something we have done in my first year here (when we lost David Andersen) with Vanterpool and Papaloukas. Of course, we must be clever in finding the right moment to take the ball away from the low post. If the ball stays for too long in the low post, we might lose the advantage of our big men who can shoot. The second risk when you post up with a guard is the defensive balance. You have the guards under the basket, you need to work harder to restore the balance, but usually we manage to do that.

Another change, we used more pick-and-roll allowing us to flash one of our big men inside and the second one outside, giving a lot of problems to the defense, if they play with a slow ‘five’. It worked, but the most important thing is that our team gained confidence from these two games playing with a better flow.

In the meantime, we beat Spartak Saint-Petersburg that came here with many former CSKA players, a game that could have been a big problem, as we were really short, missing both Smodis and Vorontsevich. Now, we have a good situation in the Russian league that takes away much pressure. Basically, we put ourselves in the position to be able to fight for something good both in the Superleague and the Euroleague. Obviously, the two games with Siena will be very important, Russian Cup is coming, Khimki game is coming. Now, every game is a big one. But we are confident that we’re getting close to finding the right balance in the right moment. We resist to the temptation of making some change in the team. We’ve just worked to recover the players who were on the margin of the rotation.

Siena is going to be a difficult challenge, because they are one of the best pick-and-roll teams in Europe, alongside with Panathinaikos. They are very aggressive and their home crowd puts a lot of pressure on the visitors and the refs. It’s going to be a great test, but I don’t think that our Top 16 begins and ends with the two games against Siena. I think the crucial games will be the second ones against Ulker and Cibona. If we manage to get these two wins, we’d have four wins and will see what happens with Siena.

Siena’s loss to Cibona was due to two factors. First, Cibona at home is much more aggressive on offense. Second, the key factor was that Eze fouled out early in the game. Siena lost their major strength inside, Cibona was playing a lot of zone what made Siena to take many three point shots. Many of those were good shots, but they missed them.

Last season, at that time of the year, we nearly lost at home against Lottomatica, then we had a decent win against Barcelona and lost to Unicaja in Malaga. We were still recovering from many injuries. If you remember, we played the final game of the Russian Cup without Smodis. We had two-three players who were extremely tired from playing 30-35 minutes for three months. We had a very short team back then.

Last year, we were in the war situation, because we needed to find the balance while already playing the Top 16. This year we were lucky and clever to manage to do this a little earlier. At the end, it seemed like the loss to Partizan really helped us.

Last year we could rotate 7 foreign players in the Superleague, this year we had to take one foreigner out of the rotation. It requires a great sense of responsibility from him. That’s why I appreciate very much what Terence did. I know that I have to be extremely patient if he makes some mistakes, because he worked really hard to overcome that situation. Honestly, I don’t think this rule is helping Russian teams in international competitions.

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