The helplessness of the Berliners was already palpable in the game. The people of Ulm, on the other hand, had to curb their enthusiasm. With a bang, they started the play-offs of the Basketball Bundesliga on Sunday and defeated the three-time champion Alba Berlin in their arena in front of more than 9000 spectators with a 24-point difference.
Correspondent for sports in Berlin.
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The tough defense of the team of newcomer coach Anton Gavel and the accuracy of his Brazilian build-up player Yago Mateus Dos Santos, who contributed 24 points to his team's 88-64 win – four more than all Berlin players combined in the second half – had nothing to oppose the Euroleague team from Berlin. The Ulm team managed a run of 54:54 points from 22:0 at the end of the third quarter.
"We were kind of sleepy," said Berlin center Johannes Thiemann, who was the most successful Berliner with eleven points. Louis Olinde (four points), his colleague from the wing, commented: "I hope we wake up now." "We looked more exhausted than in previous years," said sporting director Himar Ojeda. In the past three years, Alba Berlin has been champion.
"Nothing has been won yet"
That is likely to be more difficult this year. Alba have won 31 of the 34 games in the main round of the Bundesliga this season, including both games against Ulm. But first are the Telekom Baskets Bonn, who won the international third-tier Champions League against Hapoel Jerusalem on Sunday. Bonn and Berlin can only meet in the final round of the play-offs. The winner of the quarter-final series between Alba and Ulm is likely to face Euroleague club Bayern Munich in the semi-finals, who will face Göttingen in the quarter-finals.
"Nothing has been won yet," claimed Gavel, who is called "Coach Tono" by his players. "Unfortunately, we can't buy anything from going 1-0 up. We have to step up our game on Wednesday and confirm this victory." But Ulm have won more than this one game. Berlin had to give them the home advantage in the second game of the series, because their hall is not available due to a concert on Wednesday.
The winner is the one who wins three times. "Alba has gone through many battles. They know what it means to be behind," said Gavel: "It's new for our young team. We have to stay hungry and aggressive." His American guard Brandon Paul (14 points) announced "the next war" for Wednesday.
As a professional at Brose Bamberg and Bayern Munich, Gavel made a name for himself as a tough defender. After two years with Ulm's youth team, he became head coach this season – also with the aim of giving the team a defensive identity. This calculation by Ulm sporting director Thorsten Leibenath has worked. "Today we probably showed our best defensive performance of the season," he said. On top of that, it went well in attack. In addition to dos Santos, his 27-year-old Brazilian compatriot Bruno Caboclo, who can look back on seven years in the NBA, excelled. He scored 16 points.
Leibenath should have been particularly pleased with Juan Nunez's performance. The 18-year-old build-up player took the lead for the team in the second half, completing eight passes that led to points; he scored seven points himself. Ulm have been able to bring in the talent from Real Madrid and sign him for three years. "We have set an exclamation mark with the way we won the victory," said Leibenath: "You can only judge him conclusively when it is enough in the series for the semi-finals. Otherwise, it will be said: Berlin underestimated the Ulm team for one game, then they got serious."