Baron, Simanic lit Zvezda's offensive spark
To say that Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade is not known for offense is an understatement.
Through five rounds of action, its 70.8 points per game were among the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague's lowest. So, considering the fact that it lost on the road 48 hours earlier and saw team leader Branko Lazic disqualified after just 2 minutes, Thursday did not appear to be the night that Zvezda would break out offensively. But in the end, it was!
Borisa Simanic got it started and Billy Baron kept it going in the second half as Zvezda posted a season-high 90 points. They and Stratos Perperoglou led Zvezda to shoot 11 of 23 from downtown (47.8%) after having averaged just 6.8 three-pointers on 31.5% accuracy in the first five games.
Simanic matched his previous career-high in scoring with 10 first-quarter points, including three-pointers on the game's first two baskets. His early outburst staked Zvezda to an 8-0 start and a 28-22 lead after 10 minutes. Zvezda's game plan surely wasn't built around Simanic, who did not even attempt a shot in 8 minutes of action as a starter in the previous round. But head coach Andrija Gavrilovic was pleased with the outcome: "Borisa Simanic wanted it very hard and he came out with confidence and he helped a lot to open the game the way we wanted," he said after.
Zvezda led by as many as 16 points in the second quarter before Khimki closed the gap to 9 at halftime and 5 early in the fourth. Then it was Baron's time. The sharpshooter sank a pair of threes among his 8 points in a game-breaking 14-0 Zvezda run. Barron totaled 13 points in the third quarter alone to finish with 17, the high-water mark of his rookie season. A sign of things to come? Maybe.
"My teammates have always told me to shoot; they think I don't shoot enough," Baron told EuroLeague.TV in his post-game interview. "So I'm thankful for my teammates and their belief in me."
While Simanic and Baron more than doubled their scoring averages to date this season, Perperoglou, Charles Jenkins, Lorenzo Brown and James Gist raised theirs, too.
The story of the game was not only Zvezda's offense. The hosts also blanketed former Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner Alexey Shved and limited him to a season-low 14 points, also ending his streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer made at 39. Likewise, Khimki's 78 points scored was its season-low. All told, it was a statement game for Zvezda and several of its players. It could be a turning point in the Serbian champs' season.