The final meeting between Pinar Karsiyaka and Paris Levallois on Tuesday might gift us with a third consecutive thrilling basketball encounter, but it will definitely look very different from the first two games in the series.
Paris stunned Karsiyaka in Game 1 in Izmir last Tuesday, by coming from behind when least expected and escaping with a 76-74 victory that handed them the advantage in the race for a spot in the EuroChallenge Final Four.
The Turkish side gave the French a taste of their own medicine two days later, by prevailing 72-66 in Game 2 and taking the series back home for the deciding third clash.
The outcome of these two games was diametrically different but, bizarrely, the course of both was similar and dictated by an anomaly in the Parisian line-up.
This anomaly will not reoccur in the third encounter, or at least not entirely.
Paris power forward Jawad Williams returned to action on Saturday after a month-long absence, while center Sean May, who featured only 18 minutes in the first game before hurting his foot, is most probably also going to be present in the Tuesday decider.
With May gone early in the third quarter of Game 1, Paris had to improvise on the fly and turned to an atypical five that included four perimeter players and one mobile power forward.
Against conventional wisdom, this sudden change produced fruits by disorientating Karsiyaka, who had been wreaking havoc in the paint since tip-off and up until that point.
The Turkish frontcourt combined for 51 of their team's 74 points on the night, but got disconnected in the clutch as the visitors' small size helped them hassle and repeatedly force Karsiyaka to waste possessions.
Paris had to revert to a similarly undersized line-up in Game 2, but the go-small trick could never work as effectively for an entire game.
Besides, the second time around Karsiyaka were alert and knew exactly what to expect.
They took the game inside and their formidable frontline dominated proceedings to put the game beyond their hosts' reach.
Paris attempted a comeback again in the fourth quarter, but this time the distance to cover was enormous.
|Paris' Jawad Williams returned from injury over the weekend |
With Williams and, possibly, May back in the squad however, the Tuesday game scenario could see both teams revert to type.
If that materialises, Game 3 will finally provide us with the exciting frontal clash between the best defence and the best offence in the EuroChallenge, that everyone was so eagerly expecting to see in this series.
On the defensive end, this involves the hard-nosed defence of Karsiyaka, with relentless double teams and half-court pressing, of the kind that enabled them to give up just 68.7 points per game to their opponents in the European competition.
On the other side of the court, no one in the EuroChallenge has matched the output of an injury-free Paris.
The French side was most successful when point guard Andrew Albicy imposed a fast tempo and assisted May and Williams, who combined for an eye-catching 36.8 points per game, as the second and tenth-leading scorers in the competition, respectively.
Paris though managed to do nothing of the sort on Saturday, during their last outing before the big Tuesday game.
Playing without May, they fell at Le Havre almost without resistance, 94-71, in French Pro A league action.
Williams was a bit out of sync in his first game since late February, as he played for 32 minutes and contributed 17 points, but he only made five of his 18 shots from the floor.
Fatigue meanwhile evidently took its toll on Albicy and two more key players, Antoine Diot and John Cox.
The point guard did not write his name on the scoresheet in 20 minutes of action, while Diot and Cox finished with six points apiece, the latter on 3-for-10 shooting from the floor.
While Paris played three games in the space of five days, two of them on the road, Karsiyaka could afford the luxury of returning home after last Thursday's Game 2 in the series and catch their breath for a while, as they were not involved in Turkish BEKO Ligi action at the weekend.
|William Thomas has been in great form, earning MVP honours for his performances in the first two games of the series |
Karsiyaka head coach Ufuk Sarica therefore had the time to look for ways to prolong the current run of form of his frontcourt duo of William Thomas and Abdul Aminu.
Thomas is the top rebounder in the history of the EuroChallenge and should be counted upon to deliver a performance as solid as in the first two games of the quarter-finals, which led him to earn MVP honours.
Aminu had a EuroChallenge career-high 24 points in Game 2, with only a 20-point display in last season's opener, while playing for Elan Chalon, coming close.
If their frontcourt cannot maintain their excellent run of form, Karsiyaka will need to find a way for Robert Dixon to get some breathing space against the Parisian defence.
The American point guard led his team in scoring with 18.6 points per night until the start of the quarter-finals, but has struggled in the first two games of the series, averaging 12 points on 9-for-27 shooting from the floor.
While all this remains to be seen on the court, everyone at Karsiyaka can be sure of one quite important boost to their team, already ahead of tip-off.
Just like in Game 1, a 5,000-strong crowd will fill up every possible corner in the Izmir arena, hoping to cheer on their team to the EuroChallenge Final Four, an accomplishment that would represent the biggest success in their European history to date.