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The semifinal series is starting in Milan, Coach Messina: “All our focus is on Game 1, we need to give our best”


Olimpia is starting its ninth straight Italian league semifinals at home on Saturday against Dinamo Sassari in what is going to be another battle between two teams that will meet each other for the fifth time since 2014 at this stage of the post-season. Game 2 of the best-of-five series is scheduled to be played on Monday night again in Mediolanum Forum. Game 3 will be played in Sassari next Thursday. Olimpia is coming off a 3-1 win over Pesaro in the first round, dominated all three games that it won and lost Game 3 during the last five minutes. So far, Olimpia is sharing the offense and overall responsibility. Four players are averaging more than 10 points per game, four more than four rebounds per game and the team have been on fire from the perimeter with Shabazz Napier, Billy Baron, Johannes Voigtmann, Gigi Datome, and Shavon Shields all over 50 percent from three. Olimpia has defeated Sassari twice during this season, but Sassari has improved a lot since the beginning, winning 10 games out of 15 over the second half of the regular season and eliminated Reyer Venezia 3-1, prevailing in every one of the last three encounters. Olimpia defeated Sassari in the last regular season round in a game that Sassari’s coach Piero Bucchi labeled as a playoff-kind of game because of the intensity.

Over the first round, Sassari had to overcome Eimantas Bendzius’ ice-cold shooting series, uncharacteristically, but center Ousmane Diop, who routinely comes off the bench, was a terror inside, averaging more than 15 points and eight rebounds per game while increasing his playing time. Diop has been named the quarterfinals’ MVP, too. However, Olimpia bigs have been locked in. While Nicolò Melli set the tone inside with his physicality, blocks, and rebounding prowess, supported by Kyle Hines, Johannes Voigtmann has shot the lights out and has dictated the flow offensively, while Shavon Shields had his best outing so far in Game 4 of the first round. He scored 25 points and was all over the floor. Shabazz Napier and Billy Baron have been very efficient at shooting the ball, too. “We face a team that confirmed to be hot and is very confident as the first-round win over Reyer showed – Coach Ettore Messina said – They have great shooters, able to stretch the floor, and inside the physicality of Diop and Stephens. We anticipate a very tough series.”

Olimpia and Sassari faced each other last season during the semifinals too and Olimpia prevailed three games to none, but this is a different season of course. Sassari’s coach, Piero Bucchi, has been the head man in Milan for three seasons and two unfortunate trips to the Italian league finals. Meanwhile, Coach Ettore Messina has taken sole possession of the record for most playoff games coached, has coached his 600th Italian league game and has won his 100th game for Olimpia. They are coaching two different teams, since Sassari is relying a lot on shooting and fast-pace while Olimpia has been a defense-first team for the last three seasons.

In the first round, Milano lost when allowed Pesaro to score 88 points in Game 3. When the defense was on, the opponents never stood a chance. “We want to focus only on Game 1 – Messina said – We want to give our best right from the beginning and try to improve over the course of the series. It will be crucial to move the ball with patience and take the right shot, limiting the number of turnovers and be ready to play a great transition defense to keep Sassari from playing the game they like the most.”