Less than 48 hours after a great Game 1 battle at Palau Blaugrana, FC Barcelona and Zenit St Petersburg resumed their exciting Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs series on Friday. Zenit had become the first team to beat the top-seeded squad in Game 1 of the playoffs. Now, Zenit aimed to become just the second team to win back-to-back playoff road games after Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, which swept Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in the 2017 playoffs despite not having home-court advantage and went on to lift the EuroLeague trophy.
Both teams were expected to make adjustments. Zenit faced another injury problem, as center Arturas Gudaitis was sidelined due to an ankle sprain from Game 1. Zenit adjusted its defense, preventing Barcelona passing ace Nick Calathes from dominating the game tempo and stopping MVP candidate Nikola Mirotic, too. Calathes finished with more turnovers (5) than assists (4) for just the second time since he joined Barcelona last summer. Mirotic finished the game with 8 points and a PIR of 5, hitting just 1 of 6 two-point shots.
Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius found plenty of answers from his bench, however. Leandro Bolmaro, who didn’t play in Game 1, had 7 points and only one missed shot in 11 minutes. Rolands Smits, who went scoreless in Game 1, finished with 6 points and 5 rebounds in just 12 minutes. All told, Barcelona had 49 bench points in Game 2 to Zenit’s 13. Nonetheless, the game reached overtime only after Zenit missed a potential winning basket to end the fourth quarter tied 66-66.
Two of those bench players ultimately made the difference for Barcelona, however. Brandon Davies finished with 22 points on 5-for-8 two-point and 12-for-13 free-throw shooting, adding 8 rebounds, a steal and 10 fouls drawn for a PIR of 33. It was a new Barcelona record in a playoffs game, surpassing Gianluca Basile, who had a PIR of 31 in the 2008 playoffs against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Despite going scoreless in regulation time, Adam Hanga was the x-factor for the hosts in the extra period. With Zenit leading 71-74 in the next-to-last minute, Hanga buried a three-pointer to tie and soon collected a steal that forced Zenit to send him to the foul line. Hanga hit both attempts and denied Zenit the chance to tie the game with another steal in the closing seconds.
It was the 11th overtime playoffs game since 2005. Barcelona has now played three of them, having previously beaten Panathinaikos 72-70 in Game 1 in 2013 and lost at home 80-92 against Lokomotiv Kuban in Game 4 in 2016. Zenit, in its second EuroLeague season, had won its only three other overtime games until Friday.
After seeing his team nearly fall behind 0-2 on its own floor, Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius said after the game that nobody can expect anything for free in a EuroLeague Playoffs series:
“I think the pressure got to us a little bit. I think my guys don’t understand one main thing: that is supposed to be difficult. It is supposed to be hard. We are trying and fighting for the Final Four against a very good team. And of course, we are nervous because we lost the first game. We didn’t compete well. We put ourselves in a hole and now it is up to us to dig ourselves out of this hole.”
Barcelona has been in this situation before. In fact, it is the seventh time that it finds itself tied at 1-1 in a five-game playoffs series, the first six under Zenit’s current head coach, Xavi Pascual. Barcelona won half of those 1-1 series – against Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz in 2009, Real Madrid in 2010 and Panathinaikos in 2013 – and lost three others – against Panathinaikos in 2011, Olympiacos Piraeus in 2012 and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in 2016.
The series travels now to St. Petersburg, as Zenit is set to host Games 3 and 4 of this exciting series at Sibur Arena next week. Both teams proved there can be plenty of room for tactical surprises, which makes this series even more interesting.