ALBA Berlin registered its second consecutive win - and fifth of the season by holding off AX Armani Exchange Milan 81-76 on Friday. The outcome, and the way the Berliners achieved the win, has the team brimming with satisfaction and confidence for games to come. On the night, ALBA fended off Milan's fourth-quarter rally after dominating for the majority of the first three quarters.
Back at full strength, ALBA did 'not have to hide'
ALBA made 9 of its 11 three-pointers in the first 30 minutes as it built a 17-point margin. For the game, the hosts outrebounded the visitors 42-26 and also pulled down more than double the offensive rebounds (12) that Milan (5) had.
Those 42 rebounds were just 1 shy of ALBA's club record and tied for the most the team has had in almost nine years. Rebounding was also the segment of the game ALBA's do-it-all forward Luke Sikma stressed as the key in a victory over Milan.
"We are near the bottom of the league in defensive rebounding", Sikma said after the game. "So we knew it was a point of emphasis and we are slowly getting better. Against a really good team like this, you really need to get control of the boards."
Sikma, who scored 9 points and dished game-high 7 assists, was also responsible for 6 rebounds. He was one of six different ALBA players with at least 4 rebounds for the night. Among them were big men Johannes Thiemann and Christ Koumadje and sharpshooter Marcus Eriksson. Those three, along with center Ben Lammers, have each missed at least six games already this season.
"To get stops, you need to get rebounds; it really gets us going in transition", Sikma explained. "I am happy with how we did it. We have a lot of our big guys back, which really helps, but definitely, it was a committed effort."
ALBA is now averaging 37.0 rebounds over its last four games, after pulling down 31.3 in the first nine of the season.
Rebounding aside, however, the star of the night was Eriksson who scored 19 of his 21 points in the first three quarters. ALBA dearly missed Eriksson for seven games before he returned to action in Round 8, and since then he is averaging 15.2 points and 3.2 triples made on 50.0% shooting from downtown.
He shot 5-for-8 from three-point land against Milan, making the first 5 attempts, and pacing the team to its second consecutive win after the team downed Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv a week earlier.
"These two wins in a row against extremely good teams are important for the team", said Eriksson.
Thiemann added: "The win shows us again that we can keep up with any opponent in the EuroLeague and don't have to hide."
And that sums up a notion of just about every team in the EuroLeague after Round 13 in which five of the bottom seven teams won and three of them won against opponents sitting in the top eight spots.
With 11 teams separated by just three wins in the standings and 13 rounds already behind us, things are shaping up into another long and tight race to the playoffs. And if it continues to perform the way it has the past two weeks, ALBA could very well be in that mix.