Tactics Breakdown: UCAM Murcia v Unicaja Semi-Final

BELGRADE (Serbia) - The second Friday Semi-Final of the Final Four in Belgrade set a new level when it came to physicality.

If the first Semi-Final between the victorious Lenovo Tenerife and Peristeri bwin was all about offensive firepower, this one was the mirror image, and both coaches spoke in the post-game press conference about defensive muscle being decisive. 

Tactics Breakdown: UCAM Murcia v Unicaja Semi-Final

"I felt we dominated 75 percent of the game." - Sito Alonso

In the end, Unicaja showed everyone why they are currently in first place in the Spanish Liga Endesa standings and also most people's pre-event favorites to claim the beautiful BCL trophy here in Serbia.

They ran out 80-74 winners in the second Semi-Final over UCAM Murcia but in truth that wasn't the most likely outcome for the majority of the game. 

"I felt we dominated 75 percent of the game but not because we were winning during this time but because we played much better," said Alonso.

"In the first 20 minutes, they shot just six 3-point shots and they scored 11 of 19 in the second 20 minutes."

The first 20 minutes were indeed all about Murcia's defense dictating the game. They were using intense pressure on the ball, aggressive pick-and-roll coverages and, at the same time, inviting Unicaja's point guards to become shooters instead of playmakers.

In the first clip below we see a great example of the kind of scheme that was working for them. Watching the clip you can't help but notice the trap on the ball when Nihad Dedovic receives a handoff from David Kravish.

But, pay closer attention to Murcia's #10 Troy Caupain. He completely leaves his man, Alberto Diaz, to cover Kravish, allowing Diaz all the space in the world to put up a shot. Not only did Murcia limit the number of 3-point shots that Unicaja took, they also dictated who they wanted to take them.

The two clips below show the physicality on the defensive end that was causing issues for Unicaja head coach Ibon Navarro's team.

In the first, we see Murcia's #35 Simon Birgander in a very deep drop position when Unicaja's Kendrick Perry uses the ball screen. Perry drove the ball and the Swedish big man was right there to contest a tough shot.

In the second clip, we see the pressure on Perry specifically, both on and off the ball. Jonah Radebaugh for Murcia is defending him up the floor and then fights tooth and nail to prevent him from getting the ball back from a handoff.

Eventually, Perry did get the ball back and found Dylan Osetkowski in the post, where the latter made a tough shot, but we can see how hard Unicaja had to work for every point on the board.

It was no surprise that Murcia led the game 40-33 at halftime.

As Alonso suggested, the second half was a very different story and credit has to go to Navarro and this Unicaja team for their adaptation.

Of course, it helps when you have depth in your roster and you can go to an option like Tyler Kalinoski running off-ball screening actions instead of allowing Murcia to continue dominating with pressure on the ball.

Another thing that helps is having one of the very best defenders in Europe, like Alberto Diaz, on your team.

Navarro credited Diaz for upping the pressure on the ball and matching Murcia's intensity. The  clip below is exactly what Diaz is all about.

With any other player on the floor, a rebound that's headed to Murcia would've been the start of a new offensive possession for them, but Diaz  threw himself on the floor to get the ball and completely turned it around, into an easy score for Unicaja.

This is what defensive playmaking looks like:

These kinds of plays can galvanize an entire team and connect all 12 players with the game.

And that's exactly what happened. The subsequent possessions saw Perry hit a shot against the same deep drop coverage that had caused him a problem in the first half.

Next thing you know Osetkowski hit a corner 3-ball when Murcia were helping off him deep into the paint. That late in the game, these were scheme-breaking shots.

With Murcia's defensive schemes no longer presenting unsolvable problems for Unicaja, Alonso was forced into a last-ditch adjustment.

He went to a 3-2 zone defense. And it worked. Murcia pulled the deficit back to just a single point.

The eternal challenge of a zone defense, however, is that you risk leaving shooters open ,and Unicaja have shooters.

In this case,  Kalinsoki and Carter nailed huge shots against the zone to kill the game.

Up next for Unicaja is a very familiar foe, in Lenovo Tenerife. Would you call it a rivalry? It's a rivalry.

They faced each other at the turn of the year in the Spanish Copa del Rey, with the Canarian side coming up trumps.

They will meet again in the Final in Belgrade on Sunday. You don't want to miss this. 


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