EuroLeague Final Four spot on the line for Bayern in Milan
There have been a number of crunch games for Bayern Basketball in the ten years since returning to the top level of the sport. Who could forget Game 4 in the 2014 championship final in Berlin which saw FCBB claim their first BBL title, or of course the first cup win in 50 years against the same opponents in 2018 in Ulm? The winner of Tuesday night's showdown in the 'Mediolanum Forum' in Milan won't be presented with silverware, yet it's the biggest game that Bayern will have ever contested. After all, it's for a place in the EuroLeague's coveted Final Four tournament, which until now had seemed lightyears away for a German team.
Bayern has already rewritten the history books by becoming the first German team to reach the EuroLeague playoffs. They're now locked at 2-2 in a spectacular series against title hopefuls Olimpia Milan, who after glory days gone by (1966, 1987, 1988 EuroLeague winners, 1985, 1993 Korac Cup winners) has returned to the limelight in the last two years thanks to major financial investment.
Playoffs' best rebounding team eyeing the 80-point mark in Game 5
Not only has no side has ever progressed after trailing 2-0 in the playoffs, but the cumulative experience of Kyle Hines, Sergio Rodriguez, Malcolm Delaney and their other star players, plus home advantage for the record Italian champions, all speaks for itself. Game 5 in the playoffs has always resulted in a home win. However, they're up against this 2020/21 Bayern side, who aren't just the surprise package in Europe's elite competition, but are also the comeback kings, with eleven of their 23 EuroLeague wins coming after having trailed by at least ten points.
"The best way of approaching a game like this is to do what you have been doing all season and what has got you here in the first place," said Trinchieri ahead of the decisive game in the city of his birth. "Of course it's a big game, but it's also important that we maintain our composure, enjoy the moment, play hard and with focus, and again, just enjoy it."
There's no question that Bayern will put up a fight just like in the last two do-or-die clashes last week in Munich, and that battling spirit is certainly clear to see after the ball has hit the rim – averaging 36.5 rebounds from their four playoff games, Bayern is by far the best of the eight post-season teams (Milano have 33.5 rpg). FCBB's teamwork has also come to the fore more than for the Milan side's star ensemble (14.6 vs. 11.6 aps). There is no questioning the Italians' individual quality though, with Delaney (16.3 ppg in the playoffs), Kevin Punter (12.3), Zach LeDay (10.3) or the 34-year-old Spanish world champion Sergio Rodriguez (10.0) all high scorers.
Vladimir Lucic: "We trust the path we're on"
How well the Munich side and the likes of Wade Baldwin (15.5 ppg in the playoffs), Vladimir Lucic (14.0) and Paul Zipser (9.8) can build on their familiar strong defense and target the 80-point mark could prove pivotal, with Bayern winning eleven of the 14 games in which they have scored at least 80 points this season.
"We're all ready for Game 5," said co-captain Lucic. "It's another do-or-die game, just like the last two in Munich. They have more experience than us, with a lot of them having already played in the Final Four and won too. However, we will give it our best to secure this huge win and be part of the Final Four. We know how significant this game is for us, for the club and for German basketball, but we're maintaining our focus on the game. We were determined to make it back to Milan, and now we're here. We trust the path we're on, one we began our journey along in August. I think that the team that plays with more physicality and energy will make it Cologne."