Sometimes, when you fall back on what you can do really well, something that you have repeated numerous times until it's formed an integral part of your body memory, you can overcome physical discomfort.
EWE Baskets Oldenburg and Khimik Yuzhne, who are facing off in a EuroChallenge quarter-final do-or-die clash on Tuesday, can both testify to that effect.
Khimik had gone through a very squeezed Ukrainian Superleague schedule for the two months that preceded this play-off series, while Oldenburg did just that on Saturday, in their last outing before the EuroChallenge decider.
Oldenbirg were playing their third game in just five days, including long trips that took them from their city in the north of Germany to the Black Sea in the Ukraine and back to the south of Germany in between.
Yet when they took on WALTER Tigers Tübingen in BEKO Bundesliga action, they, and not their hosts, who had an entire week of rest between games, looked like the team with the fresh legs.
The EuroChallenge quarter-finalists breezed past their domestic league opponents 89-64, despite missing the services of shooting guard Christopher Kramer, who was nursing a sprained ankle, because they went back to what they know best.
They drew strength from their deep rotation, passed the ball around, looked patiently for the open man on every possession, and finished with an impressive 23 assists as six players scored in double digits.
It is doubtful someone from the Khimik coaching staff was in the stands in Tübingen watching the Saturday game, but they didn't really need to.
Oldenburg have been playing like this throughout the season with exceptionally successful results and the astute Khimik coach, Zvezdan Mitrovic, knows it all too well by now.
The German side employed this modus operandi for long stretches of the first game in their EuroChallenge quarter-final series against Khimik, last Tuesday at home, and won 82-74.
The Ukrainian outfit then prevented them from doing so for the biggest part of Game 2 in the series, last Thursday in Yuzhne, and prevailed 66-61 to level it at 1-1.
The two rivals meet for the third time on Tuesday, back in Oldenburg as the Germans hold the home-court advantage, and there can be no fourth game.
The winner of the third quarter-final clash goes to the EuroChallenge Final Four.
The losing team goes home, and can finally get some rest.
The tired bodies of players on both teams could be finding the second option quite appealing right now, but these athletes have worked very hard and played several games a week since the start of the season to let fatigue get the better of them just when it matters the most.
"We have the will to win, we have done so well in the EuroChallenge all season and we just want to go to the Final Four," Oldenburg coach Sebastian Machowski clarified on Monday.
|The winner of Tuesday's battle between Oldenburg and Khimik will book a place at the EuroChallenge Final Four in April |
CHESS GAME ON A BASKETBALL COURT
The series between Oldenburg and Khimik is not a clash of opposing styles, but rather a chess game where the one who succeeds in forcing the other to tread in uncharted waters, wins.
The aim of each team is to make the other one play in a way that is unfamiliar and goes against what they feel comfortable with - then the fatigue starts kicking in and it brings confusion and mistakes.
Whichever one accomplishes this task on Tuesday, will edge their rival in the race to securing a ticket to the EuroChallenge Final Four.
In the second game of the series, Oldenburg had four players scoring eight points or more, when on a normal EuroChallenge night up until the start of the quarter-finals they had seven players contributing those figures.
In that game, the Germans took a lot of bad shots and were 44% from two-point range and 23% from beyond the three-point arc, down from 55.8% and 36.6% respectively, their shooting percentages in the 12 games before they crossed paths with Khimik.
Another side of the same coin is that in their two games against the Ukrainian side, Oldenburg dished out 4.8 assists less, and committed 2.5 turnovers more than what was their average throughout the season.
Meanwhile, the German outfit forces Khimik into unfamiliar territory by isolating point guard Willie Deane in the backcourt.
Khimik shooting guard Devoe Joseph and small forward Suad Sehovic, who used to contribute in excess of 23 points in tandem, have only combined for 7.5 points on average in this series.
The Khimik frontcourt has responded well and picked up some of the slack, but Oldenburg know that if they manage to pull this feat off for a third consecutive game, they will have the edge on the duel.
A possible scenario is that the Tuesday game will be similar to the first two, in that none of the two teams will manage to cancel out their opponent completely.
In Games 1 and 2, each side got their time in the sun and imposed their game plan on the other during shorter or longer stretches of the encounter; Oldenburg did so for longer periods of time in the first game, Khimik in the second, and they ended up with their respective victories.
In a clash as balanced as this one, the home-court advantage could play a major role in tipping the balance in favour of the hosts and, according to the German club, tickets sales for the Tuesday decider are very satisfactory.
Playing in front of a sell-out friendly crowd always helps enormously, and in big games like this it can even make fatigue disappear miraculously.