32 year old Malcolm Delaney proved once again why he is the ultimate champion as he was an instrumental piece to helping lead AX Armani Exchange Milano to the amazing and thrilling 79-78 victory over FC Bayern Munich in game one of the Euroleague Quarterfinal playoffs. AX Armani Exchange Milano are in good position now as they have the 1-0 series lead in the best of five series and own the overwhelming momentum and will be seeking the 2-0 series lead tonight at home. Two nights ago, FC Bayern Munich was in the drivers seat with one second remaining and having the 78-77 advantage. Sometimes making just that one stop is more difficult than trying to stop Dennis Schroeder´s lethal drive to the basket on a consistent rate. Malcolm Delaney has been in these last second situations over and over and just has that knack of being able to produce something positive. He knows how to be cool and calm when a game is on the line the same way a Michael Jordan was back in the day. Ok so Delaney is no Jordan, but in the Euroleague he showed just how focused he can be under severe pressure. There is a reason why the Maryland native has won 8 titles in five different countries. He wasted no time when he came overseas beginning to rack up the titles as he won titles in his first three seasons in France, Ukraine and Germany. The titles have continued to come as he won twice in Spain last season with FC Barcelona and won two cups this season with AX Armani Exchange Milano. Milan could of wrapped the game earlier had they been able to get the last stop, but instead American Kevin Punter made a bad foul with one second allowing ex Maryland(NCAA) stand out and San Antonio Spurs draft pick James Gist to the line sinking two free throws as FC Bayern Munich had the tight 78-77 advantage with one second to play. I was on the edge of my seat and have to be honest that I already had FC Bayern Munich with the 1-0 game lead. Here and there you see those amazing last second plays, but the odds are greater that the opponent will get a stop. But not on this night. Delaney found Zach Leday at the buzzer with an alley-oop tip in. There might have been only one second left on the clock, but for Malcolm Delaney the game isn´t over until the fat lady sings. “For me the game is never over. I went into the huddle and told the guys that we can still win this game. There was never any doubt in my mind that we would lose this game”, warned Malcolm Delaney. The shocking win in game one was something that wasn´t surprising to the American as he has seen so much in his career, but he already found a special place for the last second win. “I would rank this at number 5. I have won and lost games with half court shots. But this win was special because it was a playoff game which made it a lot better”, said Malcolm Delaney.
AX Armani Exchange Milano came into the Euroleague series against FC Bayern Munich as the favorite and had won the regular season series 2-0 including a tight 81-79 won on the road and then hammering the German side 75-51 at home. But game one would not be a cake walk as FC Bayern Munich came alive in the second quarter exploding for 26 points and had the commanding 44-27 advantage at the break. The American who laughed when he heard Dino Radja´s comments about Russell Westbrook not being able to lead a team in Europe to success has seen a lot in his career and wasn´t surprised by how the German team stepped up in the second quarter. “I don´t see anyone being able to defend Russell Westbrook in Europe. There is no one closer to being better than Westbrook in Europe. Munich is always tough and are well coached. They played well and we played terrible. They had a good game plan and found a way to score. They got hot and we couldn´t get stops. Despite having 27 points at half-time, we never ever felt like we were out of the game. We were unable to take them out of what they do well. We weren´t too worried. We knew that we had to cut down the lead and we would be ok”, stressed Malcolm Delaney who sees Chris Paul who never won a NBA ring as a top 5 point guard all-time. Despite being behind by 17 points at the break, the Milan locker room was pretty subdued. Coach Ettore Messina didn´t fuss around or get mad. Vocal leader Malcolm Delaney took charge in the locker room and the second half road to recovery wasn´t a strenuous one to comprehend. Milan is one of the top three point shooting teams in the Euroleague. Playing good defense to help spark the offense was what had to be implemented at once. “I told my teammates to take it one possession at a time. Once we get going on offense, it will have a trickle down effect on everyone. Coach also stressed that we can´t rely on our offense, but have to start playing better defense. I knew that once we began to get stops, our scoring would come”, stated Malcolm Delaney.
One can´t slow down a powerhouse offense of AX Armani Exchange Milano forever and the Italian side finally crawled out of their funk putting on an offensive showcase in the third quarter scoring 26 points. But AX Armani Exchange Milano were still behind 64-53 after 30 minutes, but were in striking range to make continued progress in the fourth quarter as they had the momentum. “We were more patient in the third quarter and didn´t play one on one. We figured out how to space better and got guys in good position. We began to defend better which allowed us to get out on transition. On offense we played more free”, stated Malcolm Delaney. AX Armani Exchange Milano continued to plug away in the fourth quarter and got a massive boost from ex NBA player Sergio Rodriguez who played 325 NBA games and came into the game having been inserted in 292 Euroleague games. He came on the floor and sparked AX Armani Exchange Milano with 8 points drilling home two three pointers to cut the Munich lead to 67-61. In crunch time he drained another clutch three pointer for the 77-74 Milan lead. “Chacho is up for those moments and has the ability to step up. He is a winner and never backs down when it´s clutch time. That is what we expect him to do. We aren´t surprised when he does that”, warned Malcolm Delaney.
Then came the thrilling end of the game which is one that will be talked about for many more years not only in Milan, but also in Munich. AX Armani Exchange Milano had one second on the clock and had the in bounds pass at half court. AX Armani Exchange Milano had had a similar situation this season against CSKA Moscow. They ran the same play as they would against Munich finding ex CSKA player Kyle Hines. Hines was fouled, but was unable to make both free throws, so Milan had to go into overtime. AX Armani Exchange Milano didn´t want to lose this game and definitely wanted to do it better than against CSKA Moscow. Many thought the last Milan play was a back screen, but it wasn´t. “We wanted Zach LeDay to slip. Munich had been switching all game long. We knew that all we needed was for them was too make one mistake and we would win. I had Kevin Punter as an extra option, but really I wanted to go to LeDay. I knew that in 8/10 plays, I would go to LeDay. I had told him before my pass that he would be open. I also told him that he also would still have time to go down and shoot it if needed. It was tough with the pressure, but there is a reason why we practice shot clock plays”, warned Malcolm Delaney. FC Bayern Munich looked really bad on the last play and AX Armani Exchange Milano capitalized on the game changing mistake. “They tried to switch and got lost. I was going back door to Leday regardless. I had to go to him. I wanted to get something to him around the rim. I was aware of his athleticism and knew that he would get a good opportunity”, stated Malcolm Delaney.
The American who sees Golden State Warrior Draymond Greene as one of the most versatile defenders in the game, but not the greatest of all-time had a tough shooting night netting 10 points on 1/8 shooting from the parking lot. But one can´t forget, he only returned from knee surgery two weeks ago. Even if his shot didn´t fall, he is never worried about his shooting, because he knows that he can help the team in other ways. “I got in my extra shots today, but I´m always confident with my shooting. I feel like I have been playing my best defense this season in my whole career. Even if I go 0/15, I´ll be content if I can make three or four good defensive plays and get five assists. That is the same for me as if I score 20 points. I´m able to do other things to help my team win. Shooting isn´t important for me”, commented Malcolm Delaney. Game two is tonight in Milan and FC Bayern Munich desperately have to steal a win in Milan. Delaney who is one of the few professional players I have interviewed in the last weeks that didn´t like the sequel to Coming To America, because it was too commercial isn´t worried about Munich in game two and doesn´t know if the shocking game one loss will effect his old team Munich mentally. “I can´t answer that about Munich. I really don´t care. I´m just focused on us”, warned Malcolm Delaney. Zach LeDay was the hero of game one and will always be remembered. But what about Delaney who supplied the perfect lob pass? Well usually when a situation like this happens, it will be Zach LeDay who is stuck with the restaurant bill. Delaney´s feat definitely should reward him with a free dinner paid by LeDay. But that will have to wait. “No free dinner for me yet. Game one is over and we aren´t celebrating yet. We have forgotten game one and are ready for game two. I think a nice dinner and wine would be good after you win a game three in the playoffs”, smiled Malcolm Delaney. The 2021 Euroleague playoffs are still young for AX Armani Exchange Milano as they still have a long way to go to secure that title. If they want to win it all, then they will have to win twice in May at the Euroleague Final 4 in Cologne, Germany. If AX Armani Exchange Milano can come up victorious then Delaney can choose if he wants a typical German meal or if he wants to put a small dent into LeDay´s paycheck with a meal at the posh Dongio in Milan.