As everyone knows, the NBA lockout is well on its' way to being over. And while most people in the United States are celebrating, people elsewhere are reciting their sorrows. Specifically, people in Europe are doing so, as they won't get to see NBA stars on their teams anymore.
One of the places this is happening in is Milan, where Danilo Gallinari was playing his last game for EA7 Emporio Armani Jeans / Olimpia Milan. There was no big goodbye or jersey retirement, like we saw with Deron Williams, but you could clearly see people were less than pleased with the development. There were several signs thanking Gallinari for his assistance, and the "fan section" was especially pumped up. But overwhelming the sadness in the arena was the need for a win. Olimpia Milano was basically playing an elimination game, as most teams need 4 wins in order to advance out of their Euroleague group, and Milan only had two wins with two games to go.
The playing style of Milan reflected that of most Italian teams. They were slightly undersized and couldn't rebound or defend the post really well, but they could light up the scoreboard when they needed to. Unfortunately for them, the one thing that Real Madrid can do really well is control the paint. Madrid set the tone early in the game when they screamed out to a 9-0 lead, completely dominating Milan on the glass and forcing a few bad shots on their part. But Milan soon found their groove, climbing to within one with two minutes left in the first. From that point one, it was an up and down game, with Madrid holding the clear advantage, but never really able to pull away.
Below: More Recapping, How Ibaka Did, Final Thoughts!
Milan's most remarkable run came at the beginning of the second half. Rudy Fernandez had just hit an amazing-looking layup to put his team up by 8, and things weren't looking especially good for Milan, who had been struggling offensively. But a short burst of 6 points put them right back in the game before doubt could even surface in your mind.
In the fourth, it was basically the same story. Madrid was up by as much as 7, but a three by Drew Nicholas or a trip to the line would quickly narrow the lead. Still, you never really felt the momentum had shifted in Milan's favor, even at home. Milan was mainly relying on tough threes and free throws, which can be good for stopping the bleeding, but not good if you want to get a consistent offense going. By the time Sergio Rodriguez hit a three and Serge Ibaka blocked a shot in the final minute, it was all over. Milan fans left disappointed, with their team all but eliminated from the Euroleague, and their brush with NBA stardom now over.
Serge Ibaka got a lot more playing time in this game than he did in previous ones, which I suspect was somewhat of a gift from the coach, since Ibaka basically played for free. His post defense and rebounding prowess was unmatched, but he did have a few flaws. He was bested more than once by Danilo Gallinari, and did nothing to use his size advantage on the other end of the floor. He was also never really a part of the offense, as his only points came off of his own work in the post or a pick and roll. He had one missed mid-range jumper, but that was it. I suppose it makes sense for Madrid to not include him too much in their plans, since this was his last game and all, but still, it makes you wonder whether Ibaka can be a regular contributor to the Thunder offense back home. Despite all of this, Ibaka still didn't commit too many mistakes, and his control of the paint was a large factor in Madrid's victory.
Danilo Gallinari didn't especially impress in this game, but he had his moments, and was a semi-reliable scorer.
Olimpia Milan had one of the most unique crowds I've seen. The hardcore fans sat behind the goalpost, cheered, and waved flags. But in front of them was this large "security" section, where nobody was allowed. I never really felt that the fans wanted to start a riot, so I guess it was there just in case. Additionally, I was never screened when entering the arena, I just had my ticket checked and was let in. Many people brought snack from home. I didn't feel any less safe, and I enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere it invited.
Aside from the section of hardcore fans, the rest of the arena was there just to watch the game. They didn't stand, they hardly clapped, and the loudest it ever got was basically when they reacted with their mouths. I suppose the atmosphere I saw and the name of the team is a reflection of the culture of the city. In Milan, it's not unusual for people to care about fashion and enjoy sports. But they can't seem too riled up, lest they break a sweat or something.
As we close this chapter of the NBA, I'd just like to say it's been a pleasure following NBA players throughout Europe. I got great excuses to go to Lithuania, Berlin, Belgrade, and Milan. And if there's one thing that you take away from this lockout, remember that it wasn't all bad. European fans got a taste of the best players in the world, and interest in basketball (at least on a global scale) has increased overall. And if that means missing a few meaningless games in November and December, then I say, "So be it."
Now, bring on the NBA!