The do or die effect and feeling is something very special in the basketball world for the players and fans and something the Telekom Baskets Bonn may continue to experience this season if they don´t start to play more consistent in the easyCredit BBL. They are in a real battle with the Hamburg Towers and MBC for not getting demoted to the Pro A which would be a catastrophe for the traditional Bonn organization. But the fight to remain in the BBL took a break as the Telekom Baskets Bonn had another do or die game in the Basketball Champions League against AEK Athens. In the best of three series, the Telekom Baskets Bonn had suffered a tough 95-82 loss in Athens as they just couldn´t get the clutch stops in crunch-time as well as slowing dwon their three point snipers and getting a better grip on the boards. Not only could this do or die game have been a big treat for the fans, but also being able to witness the noteworthy roster which had some real gems like ex Euroleague player Marcus Slaughter, ex NBA champion Mario Chalmers as well as top Euroleague player Keith Langford on the menu. This was possibly the last chance for some to see some of these guys play live. The Telekom Baskets Bonn also had brought in some NBA experience with Donald Sloan who has come in to help the offense. On a mild late winter night in Bonn this would be a game that many in the Telekom Baskets Bonn family will never forget, because the game was held without fans because of the Corona virus that has taken the world by storm. Not having their loyal and energetic fans was very bitter, but the Telekom Baskets Bonn gave their all and had very good chances to force another do or die game in Athens as they led for long parts of the game, but when it mattered most in crunch-time, AEK Athens shifted up a few gears and were led by their veterans Keith Langford who is a real professional shooter and Marcus Slaughter who combined have 71 years of age, 29 seasons of professional experience and 292 Euroleague games as they showed their true colors and class on the court helping the Greek side to the 90-86 victory. After the win, ex San Antonio Spur Keith Langford explained what it took to reach the next round. “How this game went has been like a microcosom of how our season has gone this year with different guys stepping up as well as taking on different roles. This was a collective effort and I give a lot of credit to my teammates. We continue to find ways to win. I am very happy for AEK”, stressed Keith Langford. The Telekom Baskets Bonn played a spirited game and showed that they wanted to force a deciding game on the road, but when it counted most in crunch-time, they were unable to execute at both ends of the court the way they had done earlier in the game. “The stat sheet showed how the game went. They are a big physical team while we are small and play more the fast style. We had too many turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds hurt us. We did a good job with fast break baskets and I feel we played well overall, but just let it slip away in the end”, stressed ex Drake(NCAA) forward Ben Simons.
A big topic in the world at the moment is the Corona virus which continues to effect world sports every day. Having games in all sports without fans was something that was being discussed and already happening, but when I arrived at the Telekom Dome at 5:45, 2.15 hours before the game, I never ever expected to witness a game with no spectators. It had been announced about an hour earlier when I was driving to the event. So when I got to the press entrance, I was told that the game would be played without fans, but that press would be allowed in. That was a relief for me, because not only had I made a long trip to get there, but I also wanted to see some incredible players like Chalmers, Slaughter, Langford and Sloan, guys that you don´t see every day. As game time got closer and closer, for some reason, I was waiting and waiting for the first fans to finally arrive, but they never did. I just didn´t want to believe it. I had never been at a game where there were no fans. I wondered what the atmosphere would be like and knew quickly that it would be a lot different. After 40 minutes, I have to be honest and say that it felt like I was at a practice scrimmage of a team. The only difference was that both teams had different color jerseys which isn´t always the case with a team that goes 5-5 where the jerseys sometimes aren´t so much different in color. Another difference was the intensity of both teams was a lot higher than in a practice despite it having that practice type quiet atmosphere. With no fans and no noise, you could follow the game in a different way since you could hear both teams better with their communication. Coaches outbursts were understood a lot better as well as the always interesting interaction between player and referee. I have to be honest, I was hoping for witnessing some real genuine trash talking, but for some reason I didn´t. Maybe that is still something that players want to keep as that special experience that everyone else can only speculate about. For the players it was also something totally new, playing in a taciturn arena, but then again Keith Langford did remember his D-League time as something that at times wasn´t any different. “When you get to be my age, you need to have that juice from the fans. This game was hard for the players. Not having fans there takes away from the game. I don´t like it. This game reminded me of those mid day D-League games where there were no fans. I hope that this Corona virus gets resolved soon so we can play in front of fans again”, warned Keith Langford.
Even if there were no fans, the contest quickly went in a direction that would have been every fan´s delight as the game was tight in the first quarter with 9 lead changes as no one could get away from each other. The Telekom Baskets Bonn got an early spark from former University of Wisconsin – Green Bay(NCAA) center Alec Brown who nailed two three´s while AEK Athens got some big baskets from ex Kennesaw State University (NCAA) scoring ace Kendrick Ray who hit an in your face clutch three pointer and Greek legend Nikolaos Zisis who has won 22 professional titles including the 2008 Euroleague made a beautiful runner and still is very mobile for his 36 years to get free for the shot as the game was dead locked at 6-6. The game would go back and forth now as both teams were playing as if it was a do or die game. The Telekom Baskets Bonn were making some bad turnovers while the Greek side got some hot shooting from the real professional shooter Keith Langford who dropped 2 three´s for the 17-15 AEK Athens lead. But Ben Simons wasn´t impressed as he showed that two can play the shooting game as he nailed two trey´s for the 21-19 Bonn lead. AEK Athens would get a hard two handed dunk from Marcus Slaughter and free throws from 30 year old 202cm forward Serbian-Greek Vladimir Jankovic who is the son of legendary player Boban hit free throws, but the Telekom Baskets Bonn still had the 24-23 advantage after 10 minutes. The Telekom Baskets Bonn shot 60% from the field and 57% from outside and had 8 rebounds and 5 turnovers while AEK Athens shot 42% from the field and 57% from outside and had 7 rebounds and 3 turnovers.
In the second quarter the game remained tight as there were 6 lead changes, but at the break it was the Telekom Baskets Bonn that once again had their nose in front with the 4 point advantage. AEK Athens got the lead back quickly as Jankovic continued to be aggressive in the paint with two buckets, but a costly Greek foul allowed German national player Joshiko Saibou to net three free throws to give Bonn the 30-29 lead back. Then came another one of your moments why fans pay money to come to these type of games as Keith Langford displayed another shooting clinic and showed that at age 36, he isn´t afraid of anyone and still has deadly 1-1 abilities. He nailed a step back jumper in the face of Saibou and then hit a turn around shot for the 33-30 Greek lead. But Langford wasn´t the only guy that has those 1-1 qualities, but Bonn guard Trey Mckinney-Jones that breathed NBA air playing one game for the Indiana Pacers also got active in the scoring department with a transition basket and free throws to tie the game at 34-34. AEK Athens then got some added energy going on a 5-2 run as ex Clemson(NCAA) forward Jerai Grant used his physicality on the offensive glass getting an offensive rebound and ruthless put back dunk, and ex NBA champion with the Miami Heat Mario Chalmers who has been hit with a limited role on the club showcased an NBA like spin move getting by his man and scoring for the 39-36 AEK Athens lead. Then came a situation where one could easily follow the conversation between player and referee. Jerai Grant was continuing to dominate in the paint, but had to contend with extra Bonn bodies and made a massive dunk, but was called for traveling. Grant exploded with ”I didn´t move”, but the referee just blurted out “too many steps”. AEK Athens had been hit early with 5 team fouls and the Telekom Baskets took advantage getting to the free throw line and got the lead back and kept it to the break. Brandon Frazier and Yormam Polas Bartolo free throws helped lead the way for the 43-39 lead. Then it was Mario Chalmers again who showed why he had been in the NBA for 9 years hitting an amazing pull up jumper under severe defensive pressure as if it was nothing cutting the Bonn lead down to 43-41. Down the stretch it was ex Eisbaeren Bremerhaven power forward Marcus Slaughter that kept the Greek side close with his physical play on the glass getting a lay in and dunk while Bonn kept the lead with a dunk from ex Ludwigsburg big man Martin Breunig and a transition basket from Simons for the 49-45 half-time lead. The Telekom Baskets Bonn shot 58% from the field and 40% from the three point line and had 19 rebounds and 10 turnovers while AEK Athens shot 44% from the field and 25% from the three point line and had 13 rebounds and 4 turnovers.
In the third quarter it looked like the Telekom Baskets Bonn were going to run away with the game as they attained their biggest lead of the game with 10 points, but AEK Athens stuck with their game plan, fought back and trailed only by 4 points after 30 minutes. The Telekom Baskets Bonn went on a rapid 6-0 run to extend their lead to 55-45 as their own scoring machine newly acquired Donald Sloan who played parts of 5 seasons in the NBA and averaged 7,0ppg with the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets made three free throws and then dropped a huge trey. But when you need a quick spark and instant points, you can always rely on Keith Langford who nailed a clutch three and Jankovic made a spin move and lay in to cut Bonn´s lead to 55-50. There would be more consistent defensive break downs by AEK Athens as Saibou made an easy finger tip roll in and Breunig made a dunk as Bonn suddenly led 59-50. The Telekom Baskets Bonn had stepped up their defense and transition, but at the same time, the guests also had situations where they missed easy shots. AEK Athens continued to battle and creep slowly back going on a 6-3 run to cut Bonn´s advantage to 62-56 as Zisis nailed a 20 footer, Langford snuck inside for a lay in and Jankovic hit a runner. Mckinney-Jones was Bonn´s version of Langford in this phase hitting clutch shots keeping the Telekom Baskets Bonn ahead 64-56. But a crucial AEK Athens 6-2 run at the end cut Bonn´s lead down to 66-62. In the run as usual it was Lanford who carried the team with free throws and a beautiful spin move to get away from his defender and finish with a pull up jumper while Slaughter got another easy basket with a tap in. “ We stuck to our game plan and coach said we had to play for 40 minutes and not pay attention to Bonn but to our game. We did respect Bonn, but knew we had to just keep playing and fighting. Our experience came into play. We have guys that know how to finish games at the end”, stressed Keith Langford. “The game went back and forth. We were fighting and their size got to us at times. Our focus was just to keep playing and stay in the game and finish strong”, stressed Ben Simons. The Telekom Baskets Bonn shot 50% from the field and 29% from the parking lot and had 29 rebounds and 14 turnovers while AEK Athens shot 43% from the field and 22% from the parking lot and had 22 rebounds and 6 turnovers.
In the fourth quarter both teams continued to fight as if it had been a title game and it remained really close until the last few minutes, but the Telekom Baskets Bonn just couldn´t get the lead back while the real professional shooting qualities of Keith Langford carried AEK Athens to the victory. AEK Athens jumped all over the Telekom Baskets Bonn in the first few minutes going on a brutal 11-4 run, but what was most surprising was that Keith Langford had 0 points in the run. It also wasn´t a Chalmers, Ray or Grant that supplied severe scoring punch, but a Greek 29 year old point guard named Nikos Gkikas who spent the last 3 seasons with ASP Promitheas Patras and was a Greek allstar in 2018. The 186cm guard nailed back to back three´s and a jumper as if he had received a special shooting lesson from his teammate Keith Langford. Slaughter also contributed 3 points as AEK Athens led 73-70. The Telekom Baskets Bonn had lost a little intensity on the defensive end allowing the Greek side to come back. Bonn continued to fight back, get to the free throw line and got a basket from Brown and a clutch three pointer from Sloan to dead lock the game at 77-77 with 3,33 minutes left in the game. Now the massive experience of AEK Athens started to take form as Langford took over and got suitable assistance from Marcus Slaughter. Slaughter was extremely helpful in this phase getting a lay in and to the free throw line twice for the 81-77 Greek side lead. Bonn stayed with the AEK Athens thanks to Trey Mckinney-Jones who was their current go to guy scoring twice to cut AEK Athens lead to 82-81. But then came the severe turning point of the game as with under 2 minutes to go, AEK Athens broke out on a lethal 7-0 run to extend their lead to 89-81. In the run it was Langford who scored twice and Slaughter hit a free throw. Bonn was also thrown some bad luck as a loose ball came right to Jankovic who was hanging out under the basket for an easy lay up. Sloan would give Bonn 5 more instant points in the last seconds, but it wasn´t enough as AEK Athens held on to the tight 90-86 win. “Our experience was key at the end. It helps when you have guys like myself, Zisis, Chalmers and a Slaughter. We have been around for a long time. We have a good mix of old and young guys that compliment each other well”, warned Keith Langford. “Langford and Slaughter were key for them. Both know how to play on offense and defense. With Langford you have a professional scorer that can score whenever he wants to. Both are good players that stepped up in key situations”, added Ben Simons. AEK Athens was led by Keith Langford with 25 points. Marcus Slaughter added 17 points and 9 boards while Vlado Jankovic contributed 13 points while the Telekom Baskets Bonn were led by Trey Mckinney-Jones with 18 points while Donald Sloan added 14 points and Martin Breunig 12 points. AEK Athens shot 45% form the field and 25% from outside and had 33 rebounds and 7 turnovers while The Telekom Baskets Bonn shot 49% from the field and 33% from outside and had 39 rebounds and 19 turnovers.