The fourth game was looking like it was headed for more dramatics for Unicaja. They had to win and force the fifth or going home, so obviously the situation was desperate. Playing at home in Málaga was a great help for them, and Tau Vitoria still had José Manuel Calderón and Drew Nicholas
sidelined. Also, having played a very intense 50-minute game two days before could have affected some players seriously, and Unicajas deeper rotation was in better position to keep the effort up. THE GAME:
Despite the adversities, Tau Vitoria managed to come away with a less comfortable victory than the final score (62-74) would indicate, and therefore advanced to the ACB finals. It was a tough game in which both teams fought up until the last minute. Nevertheless, the victory for Tau Vitoria was built between the last part of the third quarter and the early moments of the fourth, when they made a (0-13) run, which was impossible for Unicaja Málaga to overcome for the remainder of the game.
Unicaja has been suffering these kinds of droughts throughout the series, not having enjoyed a consistent offensive leader to take over games when they get ugly. Jorge Garbajosa
could have been the man, but it seems he didnt fully recover from an injury he had suffered late in the regular season. Tau Vitoria has been in a complete different situation, with a couple of offensive machines like Luis Scola
(23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals in this game) and Arvydas Macijauskas
(17 points, all in the first half, 3 rebounds and 2 assists) that can carry the scoring load whenever is necessary. THE MATCHUP:
The first quarter was a bit disappointing. To start with, Tiago Splitter
didnt show up, and Fran Vázquez didnt have too much of a prominent role. A couple of fouls, the first one unnecessary, a few rebounds, and a lucky and very unorthodox shot backing his way towards the basket was all that was worthy to mention regarding the Spanish player.
With Vázquez resting and in foul trouble on the bench, Tiago Splitter
made his first appearance in the game during the second quarter. He didnt make much noise either, but left a couple of really interesting plays for people to think about. In the first one, he received the ball very close to the basket, faked to get free from a defender and had only the 6-9 PF Jorge Garbajosa
almost under the hoop. Instead of dunking on him (something that Fran Vázquez would have done), Tiago tried to avoid Garbajosa to finish with a reverse layup, but he missed short. He grabbed his own rebound and managed to complete the action with a successful short semi-hook. The second play was an 18-19 ft. jumper that unexpectedly went in (I couldnt avoid shouting Hallelujah at that moment for Tiagos jumpshot).
The third quarter started with both guys on court, and we soon had the first interesting sequence: Tiago Splitter
scores going one-on-one against Vázquez in the low post with a long and left-handed layup. It was a simple move, but well executed. Fran gets his revenge a little later when he delivers a put-back dunk after taking advantage of Splitters absence after a defensive rotation. The Brazilian also missed an easy basket on a fast break play, trying a left-handed layup instead of a stronger finish like the dunk. We could see both guys fighting for some rebounds, and Fran proved to be more physically developed.
However, Tiagos usual magnificent defense paid dividends, helping to leave Unicaja scoreless during almost 9 consecutive minutes between the third and the fourth quarters. Considering Frans poor offensive production, coach Scariolo opted to rest him for the most part of the last period. Splitter scored some points near the basket, but he also missed again due to his reluctance to dunk the ball. THE VERDICT:
For the second game in a row, Tiago Splitter
came up as the winner over Fran Vázquez in the fascinating matchup between these two promising players.
As always, we have to mention his defense, particularly good in the second half. But also that mid-range jumper he nailed and the low post move against Vázquez. Lets hope he can eventually prove to have quite a good post-up game as we think he has, as well as recover some of his shooting accuracy.
On the negative side, in this game it was more evident than ever his problems with the dunk. Hes a rather athletic guy considering his size, but Im not sure if hes already that explosive to leave the ground quick and high enough to comfortably dunk on a rival like Fran Vázquez does. Furthermore, even in situations when it looks rather easy for him, he opts for the layup. Might it be a pattern to keep developing his skills near the basket with layups? Perhaps, but I wouldnt bet on it. I wish he used a little more aggressiveness attacking the opponents rim. Anyway, he finished the game with 12 points (5/10 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and 2 turnovers.
There isnt too much to say about Fran Vázquez. He might have played his last game in the ACB League, but he didnt leave the sweetest taste. He was effective in the rebounding department, had his share of intimidation around the basket, but his scoring effort was weaker than usual. His had 6 points (3/4 FG), 10 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks and 1 turnover.
The season is over for him, but despite his obvious development, hes yet to prove us that he can be something more than a great role player in the paint.