Witnessing those special basketball playoff head to head battles is something that is always appetizing for any fanatic watching the intense focus of both guys giving 180% on both ends of the court until full exhaustion. The NBA has had these amazing and unique duels seemingly forever as it is always a pleasure to look back on these NBA legends making history. In the 60´s, you had the fierce battles between the two best centers of all-time with Boston Celtic Bill Russell and Mr 100 points Wilt Chamberlain with the Celtic winning in 1964 and 1969 in seven games amassing 11 titles in his career while Chamberlain only could boast having two NBA rings. In the 70´s a fondly remembered duel was Chamberlain against New York Knick Willis Reed who had 37 and 38 points in the first games, but only four points in game seven, but it was enough to win the 1970 final despite Chamberlain averaging 23 points and hauling down 24 rebounds in the series. The 80s had two unforgettable duels with the most famous possibly the 1984 classic Bird vs Magic encounter where both owned the court where their teammates could have easily taken the bench and watched the two legends fight it out to the finish which Bird won in seven and the 1988 match up between Isaiah Thomas and the bad boys of Detroit against Magic and the Lakers and despite 43 points by Thomas in game 6, the Lakers won the title. In the 90´s few will forget the 1992 battle between Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler and the Trailblazers pitting the leagues best two shooting guards, but Drexler´s supporting cast couldn´t match Jordan´s as the Bulls won. In this decade the 2012 duel between Lebron James and Kevin Durant is a classic as the best player on the planet finally won his first NBA title with the Miami Heat while Durant might get his first in a few weeks. Even if the easyCredit BBL is far from the NBA, even here there have been incredible head to head battle over the years and last season in the quarterfinals, the EWE Baskets Oldenburg faced off against up and coming team ratiopharm Ulm as the last three games were decided by a combined total of only 9 points. Two BBL identity figure players Ricky Paulding and Per Guenther had the games of their lives where Per Guenther dropped 35 points and dished out nine assists in game two while Paulding had 26 points in the loss. In game three, Paulding dropped 30 points in the win while Guenther had 16 points and eight assists. In game 4, Paulding had 16 points in the 80-79 loss while Guenther was held in check with six points, but his front court of Raymar Morgan and Augustine Rubit combined for 45 points to send Oldenburg into summer vacation. Now a year later and with Paulding at age 34 and Guenther at age 29 and not getting any younger, both are back again facing off against each other on a big stage for the ticket to the final, but despite Pauldings loss last season to Guenther, he still leads their head to head title chase at 2-0 while the German has the Buffalo Bill phobia with 4 final appearances and still yearning for that first title.
The EWE Baskets Oldenburg marched into the quarterfinal playoffs not getting buried in the mega hoopla of the surprising successful medi Bayreuth season and jumped on them taking a 2-0 series lead seemingly quicker than Oldenburg legend Ricky Paulding could ever utter the phrase “Ich Bin Ein Oldenburger” in Japanese.
There was little defense played in the series as it became a shoot out from the start as Oldenburg averaged 91 points and Bayreuth 89 points in the series. Had Bayreuth not allowed Oldenburg to steal game one in their living room, this could have become a different series. A hot hitting Oldenburg team and a few Bayreuth mental mistakes cost them game one while Oldenburg had five guys in double figures. In game two, the EWE Baskets continued their offensive rampage at home showing their Phoenix Hagen tendencies of their glory days where having more points than the opponent was all that mattered. In the 102-90 victory, they fired away again nailing 13 trey´s and winning the rebound duel while having six guys in double figures. In game three, medi Bayreuth played a lot better winning 98-94, but just escaped a furious 35 point Oldenburg onslaught in the fourth to force a game four. There really was hardly any difference in the stats in game three, but the free throws won this game for the Bavarian team as they nailed 24/26 free throws. In game four, the offensive force of both teams were in full flight again, but Oldenburg shot better and had more support from the bench getting 37 points. Medi Bayreuth had come into the series as a solid defensive team allowing 80 per game this season, but just couldn´t give it at a consistent rate in the series and possibly some fatigue also played a role as it had been a long season for a team that didn´t have the playoff experience that Oldenburg had.
Ratiopharm Ulm had to go the distance against the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg winning in five games as it is never an easy affair playing against a team run by the coaching expertise of John Patrick who´s heart lives on the court. This severe difficult test that ratiopharm ulm got in this series should be a wakeup call that there are still 6 games to be won and this should make them stronger and more aware that it wot get any easier against the next scrappy underdog from Oldenburg. Ratiopharm Ulm had problems coming out of the gate surprisingly losing game one at home in an offensive orientated game 96-93 as the home team gave up 20 points more than their season average which probably warned head coach Thorsten Leibenath right away that it wasn´t going to be an easy series. Leibenath must have been thinking in game one, if Ludwigsburg keep hitting three´s like this, I will have to beg for a clone of Chris Babb as they dropped 14 bombs as Rocky Trice had the game of his life with 25 points and showed no signs of aging. Ratiopharm Ulm got back on the winners road winning game two and three making adjustments on the defensive end and remembering their principles as they held Ludwigsburg to 76 points per game. Ratiopharm Ulm rebounded well in game two and outsmarted Ludwigsburg in crunch-time and had another top performance from ex NBA player Chris Babb as he netted 21 points. In game three, ratiopharm Ulm discovered their range again from outside dropping 12 trey´s, winning the battle from the bench and once again getting a stellar performance from Babb with 20 points. Per Gunther who has had a different kind of season as he has averaged the least minutes in the BBL since his 2010 season and eight less than last season came alive nailing home 21 points and hitting 5/6 three´s. Leibenath also made the experiment of bringing Raymar Morgan from the bench as he averaged 14 points and seven boards and gave the game a different element. In game four, Ludwigsburg prolonged the series winning a do or die game at home 84-76 as they did a superb job taking care of the ball, did a better job at limiting the Ulm guard trio of Babb, Guenther and Hobbs to 22 points combined and hurt Ulm inside as ex NBA player Jack Cooley scored 23 points. In game five, ratiopharm Ulm escaped a fourth quarter Ludwigsburg comeback and sneaked into the semi-finals with a 91-81 win at home. John Patrick has coached many many games that he will never forget including winning the 2010 Eurochallenge, beating Alba Berlin in the playoffs with Wurzburg in 2011 and having a playoff game replayed against FC Bayern Munich a few years back, but he will never forget this game as he had to experience some serious questionable calls and one can sense that he will look back many times at the scouting sheet and cringe when he sees the free throw relationship of Ulm´s 30/37 to his teams 9/10. He probably circled the Free throw stats with red ink and will make a copy and frame it and send it to the league in Cologne. Paper never lies, but neither does what else happened on the court and Babb was once again at his best with 16 points and the agile duo of Morgan/Rubit combined for 38 points sending Ludwigsburg into summer vacation.
Ratiopharm Ulm won the season series and what really has to give EWE Baskets Oldenburg head coach Mladen Drijencic headaches is the ratiopharm Ulm lethal offense as they averaged 100 points in the two games. In game one ratiopharm Ulm won 105-95 as Oldenburg was without big man Brian Qvale and ratiopharm Ulm without Augustine Rubit and there wasn´t too much difference in the stats as both combined for 27 three´s, Ulm rebounded a tic better, had nine turnovers while Oldenburg only had seven, but the story was the bench play as Ulm gave 39 points in support and Oldenburg only 23. Ratiopharm Ulm were led by Babb and Morgan who combined for 43 points and got 16 points from ex NBA player Tim Ohlbrecht from the bench. Oldenburg got solid production from their guards Paulding, Kramer and Massenat with 53 points combined. In game two, ratiopharm Ulm won on the road 96-88 as they got hot again from outside and the inside wrecking crew of Morgan/Rubit once again destroyed Oldenburg combining for 36 points while the snipers Babb and Hobbs combined for 36 points. Oldenburg did a good job securing the boards, but gave ratiopharm Ulm four extra possessions on offense with 14 turnovers. Kramer took up the shooting slack of Massenat and Schwethelm who only combined for 11 points scoring 28 points The ratiopharm Ulm team stats of best scoring and rebounding, third in assists and fourth in defense has to have Oldenburg head coach Drijencic having sleepless nights as his team is only seventh in scoring and points allowed. Both teams elected to give fans an offensive show in both games and put defense on the back burner, but this series will be decided who really wants to play defense. That is an easy and obvious statement to state, but both teams have demonstrated their will to defend and it´s playoff time and the effort to defend in this series has to return. Ratiopharm Ulm have the obvious advantage at the guard and front court positions with Babb, Guenther, Hobbs, Morgan and Rubit and that is why the EWE Baskets Oldenburg will have to commit to defending and not allowing these five players to get into a series offensive rhythm. Oldenburg have a fine big man line of Qvale and De Zeeuw that will have to use their physicality to grave proportions to try to somehow keep Morgan/Rubit away from the bucket, but will that be possible as no team has been able to do that at a consistent rate? A key factor will be the bench as how much of an impact will Americans Taylor Braun and Casey Prather be able to make for ratiopharm Ulm? Prather had a sold series against Ludwigsburg showing no real time to need to adjust to the BBL. A lot will ride on the seemingly brothers from another mother Rickey Paulding(13ppg in Bayreuth series) and Chris Kramer(11,0ppg, 6,0rpg, 9,5apg in Bayreuth series) who will log many minutes and will have to produce in every game for their team to advance to the final. The ex factor will be Vaughn Duggins who had a severe injury and is back and came alive in the Bayreuth series. If he and Massenat can find their touch on a regular basis then the teams will have a real battle at the guard position. Ratiopharm Ulm will be without big man Tim Ohlbrecht which hurts. Ratiopharm Ulm is the favorite and should win this series, but also has pressure to win and one just has to love the sentimental underdog Oldenburg that have nothing to lose. Both clubs have great team chemistry, but not only is Oldenburg´s experience greater, but they have guys together that have won a title together. And what separates Oldenburg from ratiopharm Ulm is the special characters that the underdog has. Of course ratiopharm Ulm have great character guys with Per Guenther, Chris Babb and Braydon Hobbs and one could go down the list, but Oldenburg has the trio of Paulding, Kramer and Schwethelm that have all won a title at different times and have a special bond and their yearning to win and competitiveness is just at an another level that only Per Guenther can share with the exception of having won a title. This will be a special series with the sentimental favorite Guenther going against the other BBL identity figure Rickey Paulding so in a way for fans, nobody will lose, because at least one will get a shot at the title again.