Ex Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly probably can´t go anywhere in Buffalo today and not be recognized or asked why he never won a Superbowl after making it to four in a row from 1990-1993, in England the football national team have been blanked since 1966 not winning another title again and in German basketball the Telekom Baskets Bonn are the best example of the German version of the Buffalo Bills as they have reached 8 finals(5 league, 3 cup) since 1997 and are still looking to sip champagne for that first title as fans have been hit hardest as every new season and no hardware haunts them just a bit more. Ok it isn´t nearly as bad with Alba Berlin who have celebrated cup titles the last years totaling three since 2013, but have been stumped winning that league title for some time as the last championship dates back to 2008. Alba Berlin´s last title was in 2016 where they upset FC Bayern Munich led by head coach Sasa Obradovic and American Jordan Taylor, but going into these playoffs could have had two more added to their previous 19 titles, but this season were more than rudely denied where one had to wonder if someone had been unfriendly to the basketball God. The season title hardships began in Bamberg where they were as close to winning the title as Oklahoma was a playoff game a few weeks ago until a certain Damien Lillard demonstrated that there are other elite guards who know how to win and sent Russell Westbrook home with a long summer to ponder why he can´t lead teams to titles. But Greek legend guard Nikolai Zisis hit a brutal buzzer beater sending Freak City into basketball ecstasy and giving Alba Berlin their first nasty hardship of the season. Their second title miss was in the Eurocup where they faced up against a talented tough Valenica side in the final, but not as an intimidating team as many others as they took them to three games. Alba Berlin won an unforgettable game two 95-92 in OT, but ran out of gas in game three getting clobbered by 26 points. An interesting fact is that in 2010, Alba Berlin also lost the Eurocup to the Spanish side. Perhaps three is a charm in the BBL playoffs, but first they will have to erase ratiopharm Ulm from the playoffs. Ratiopharm Ulm like the Telekom Baskets Bonn are also looking for their first title. They arrived in the BBL in 2006 thanks to the elite coaching of Mike Taylor who recently did it again bringing Hamburg to the BBL and have reached 5 finals(3cup, 2 league) in that time. In a span of five years from 2011-2016, they reached a final each year except in 2015. Ratiopharm Ulm has been a consistent playoff team in the last years and even finished first in 2017 after having an unforgettable amazing season, but couldn´t win a title. It looks very much like the club will have to wait another season as this season their inconsistency and lack of cohesiveness won´t get them by Alba Berlin. A title would be a nice way to say farewell to head coach Thorsten Leibenath who will step down after the season and step into the front office. But there are better chances of Mike Taylor returning to Ulm than ratiopharm Ulm hoisting their first ever BBL title in June.
Even if Alba Berlin lost two finals, they had a solid BBL season with a record of 27-7 and would have finished in second place had the EWE Baskets Oldenburg not have had such a surprising strong season. The club played fairly consistent this season having a seven game winning streak and two five game winning streaks. They lost some uncharachteristic bitter crunch-time games against FC Bayern Munich, Braunschweig and Bayreuth. Their biggest success in the regular season was surely sweeping Brose Bamberg. Their biggest strength is their team chemistry and without a doubt they play the most beautiful basketball in the league. They have the second best offense averaging 91 points per game and second best defense allowing only 80 points. They are well balanced at every position and have five guys that average in double figures. They have 2018 BBL MVP Luke Sikma(11,3ppg,5,9rpg,4,5apg) who belongs to the most complete players in the league. They have one of the best point guards in the game with Peyton Siva(10,7ppg,6,7apg). Sharp shooter Martin Hermannsson(11,7ppg, 41% 3pt), athletic shooter and defender Niels Giffey(10,7ppg) and the versatile Rokas Gieraitis(12,6ppg, 42,8%3pt) round out the scorers in double figures. The club is well taken care of inside with Landry Nnoko and German national player Johannes Thiemann and guards Joschiko Saibu and ex Michigan(NCAA) standout Derrick Waltin Jr. Their great team play often overshadows their other big strength rebounding which is second best in the BBL as they haul down 32 per game. The club also has a lot of discipline and get hit with the fewest fouls in the league. This will come in handy in the down stretch of games when the game may be tight. They also dish out the most assists per game at 22. When their offense is rolling and they are defending well, then they can beat anyone in the league and would even give FC Bayern Munich a good series. The club also has one of the deepest benches in the league and have the luxury to bring big German talent 17 year old Franz Wagner who belongs to the core rotation and has been given the chance to develop further under legendary Spanish head coach Aito.
Ratiopharm Ulm had an up and down season as they finished in sixth place with a 20-14 record. They started off the season slow losing five of their first six games. They then had a good stretch winning nine of 11 games, but then prompt lost four of five games. In mid march they picked up their game and finished strong winning nine of their last 12 games. Injuries and having two games a week with the Eurocup coupled with inconsistency had an effect on their success. They were unable to beat neither of the big three of Munich, Berlin and Bamberg and one would have to say that sweeping Cinderella sensation Rasta Vechta was their BBL season highlight. They have scoring power with the seventh best offensive team averaging 87 points per game and had their moments defending allowing 85 points per game which is tenth best in the league. Like Alba Berlin they have a deep roster as seven players average 20 minutes or more and five guys get 10 minutes or more. The club has five players that average 9,0ppg or more and three guys averaging double figures stats. If they had been more of a factor at the top of the standings then Dwayne Evans(14,7ppg, 6,7rpg) would have been an MVP candidate. Just three years ago, he was in the Pro A dreaming of the BBL and now he is a top 20 player in the league. Leibenath did a good job hauling in Javonte Green(14,0ppg) and point guard Patrick Miller(11,4ppg) that can change the outcome of a game quickly. Other solid players are veteran Ryan Thompson(9,4ppg) and German national player Ismet Akpinar(9,4ppg). Big man Bogdan Ravosavljevic(6,4ppg, 3,0rpg) and forward Isaac Fotu(7,6ppg,4,2rpg) are other guys that can lead the team in scoring on any given night. The bench has further talented guys with David Kramer(5,0ppg) who continues to develop nicely, Ulm legend Per Gunther(5,0ppg) and sharp shooter Katin Reinhart(6,1ppg). All in all a talented bunch, but over the course of the season, the club has displayed inconsistent shooting percentages and still hasn´t found their peak. They are near the end of the team stats in assists despite having three talented point guards with Miller, Akpinar and Gunether. That is a stat that is hard to believe, but the club was unable to develop that lethal playmaker. Will they suddenly and unexpectedly find their peak in the playoffs against power house Alba Berlin?
Alba Berlin swept the regular season series winning 92-74 and 92-81. In both games Alba Berlin crushed ratiopharm Ulm on the boards 57-41 and crushed them inside with scoring. In the second game, both teams had problems taking care of the ball as Siva, Miller and Akpinar coughed up the ball combined 17 times. Both teams come into the playoffs strong and won´t be lacking self confidence. Alba Berlin are the favorite and ratiopharm Ulm have nothing to lose and will be able to risk more. Ratiopharm Ulm have an athletic bunch and should have success if they can get a majority of the mis matches to their advantage and execute especially at the guard position. Alba Berlin is very difficult to stop when their offense is flowing. Ratiopharm Ulm will have to find a special identity on defense in this series and have consistency if they want to present Alba Berlin with problems, but that is easier said then done. If they can defend better than in their best games this season, then they will have a chance like in the second game where they forced Alba Berlin to 21 turnovers. If the game is close, then the sometimes shaky free throw shooting of Alba Berlin could become a thorn in their side. Ratiopharm will need to get more input from their German players. Alba Berlin is one or even maybe two classes to much for ratiopharm Ulm. The underdogs have the depth and talent to be successful, but not in a five game series against Alba Berlin. Alba Berlin wins this series 3-1. It would be nice for Thorsten Leibenath to win a playoff round, but with an early exit he can focus on getting the new head coach for next season unless he is already on tap to be announced as soon as the season is over.