Sergio Llull’s “Mandarina” is a nightmare for defenders. Foto: Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Sergio Llull’s “Mandarina” is a nightmare for defenders. Foto: Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Six most clutch EuroLeague players this season

Basketball OlyBet 19.01.2024

When a EuroLeague game is on the line, who do you want to take the last shot or be on the court to make that decisive pass or get a defensive stop? Here are some names from the ongoing season who have ice in their veins.

Codi Miller-McIntyre

We can’t start this list without mentioning Baskonia’s point guard, Codi Miller-McIntyre, who is the only player so far to have made two game-winning shots. It seems like the American smells blood against Greek clubs, as he first sunk Olympiacos in Round 7 and then Panathinaikos Athens in Round 18.

Both game-winners were quite similar. Instead of driving to the rack, despite being a physical guard capable of getting to the hoop, Miller-McIntyre opted for midrange shots. However, as many big names have mentioned, driving to the basket at the end of games is often futile due to the rarity of foul calls. A midrange shot is therefore a safer option, where the player has a better chance to carry his team to a win.

Miller-McIntyre against Panathinaikos:

It’s interesting to note that in these games, Baskonia’s last possession wasn’t entrusted to their main offensive weapon, Markus Howard. Although he was on the court against Olympiacos, he was not present against Panathinaikos.

Howard is a fantastic scorer who consistently hits tough shots in the EuroLeague. However, it may have been a tactical choice by head coach Duško Ivanović to trust Miller-McIntyre against Olympiacos, and the latter repaid the faith. Having made the first game-winner, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t have gotten the chance for a second.

Sergio Llull

Clutchness doesn’t only occur at the end of games. Of course, Real Madrid’s legend Llull has made his fair share of game-winners, like in last season’s EuroLeague final against Olympiacos, but this season he has shined during the end of quarters.

The 36-year-old Spaniard is known for his very high-arc shots, or the “Mandarina” as it’s called in his home country. It’s fascinating to see how Llull consistently gets away with these shots year after year, even when the shot clock is running down and Real’s maestro has the ball. Everyone knows the kind of shot Llull is going to take in the next few seconds but it’s rarely stopped.

Llull’s “Mandarina”:

But of course, sports fans know very well that some signature moves are close to unstoppable. Dutch football player Arjen Robben always cut in from the right to the center of the pitch to use his preferred left foot and break defenses with a timely pass or a great shot. Everybody knew what the winger was going to do once he got the ball, yet very few defenders could stop him in his tracks.

Marius Grigonis

This might seem like a dubious choice, but hear me out. Panathinaikos Athens’ guard or small forward has earned head coach Ergin Ataman’s trust in crunch time, as Grigonis has averaged 6 minutes and 42 seconds in fourth quarters this year. In five out of 21 games, the Lithuanian has played all ten minutes.

While Grigonis hasn’t made two game-winners like Miller-McIntyre, he has brought Panathinaikos two wins largely on his own. On December 14, Grigonis scored 11 fourth-quarter points, including three three-point shots, to help the struggling Greek powerhouse over the finish line against ASVEL Villeurbanne.

Six days later, it was time for Grigonis to sink another French club, Monaco. The player from the Baltics hit a game-winner from beyond the arc in the last second of the game, which was his only basket in that contest’s fourth quarter.

Grigonis beat the buzzer against Monaco:

Furthermore, advanced stats reveal that Grigonis is one of the most important players for Panathinaikos in fourth quarters. His net rating (measures a team’s point differential per 100 possessions when that player is on the court) of +35.7 is top-notch and significantly better than Panathinaikos’ fourth quarter net rating of +22.2.

For a player who was allowed to leave the club in the summer, Grigonis has become surprisingly valuable to Ataman and Panathinaikos.

Mike James

It’s impossible to have a clutch list without talking about one of the premier offensive players in the EuroLeague. While James hasn’t made any game-winners this season, the American has buried plenty of teams in the fourth quarter.

Monaco’s most valuable player averages eight minutes and 29 seconds on the court in fourth quarters and has scored at least ten points four times this season, especially shining against Maccabi Tel Aviv, against whom James poured in 15 points and created six more with his assists. Unfortunately for Monaco and James, Maccabi won that game rather comfortably.

Then there have been games like the Round 6 fixture against Milan on the road. James scored seven points in that fourth quarter, which is nothing amazing in itself, but he made it count when it mattered the most.

With 2.20 to go, James scored a crucial two-pointer and buried Milan with his three 14 seconds before the buzzer. That shot was nothing short of amazing, as Stefano Tonut played really good defense against the American to no avail.

James’ highlights against Milan:

Jan Vesely

Not a name you would expect, right? After all, the Czech center isn’t a three-point threat, and usually, clutch genes run in the veins of perimeter players.

Scoring-wise, Vesely has only had two great fourth quarters this season. Two weeks ago, he helped Barcelona beat Real for the first time this season by pouring in 11 points; a couple of days later, Vesely’s 13 fourth-quarter points and four rebounds paved the way to beating Baskonia.

Vesely dominating against Baskonia:

Where Vesely has really excelled is on defense. The former NBA player has been clutch in making Barcelona’s D as tight as possible, and it has worked really well. During fourth quarters, their defensive rating of 100.5 (measures a team’s points allowed per 100 possessions) is second best to Panathinaikos (98.9).

Vesely’s fourth-quarter defensive rating will blow your mind – it’s 84.7! Furthermore, he leads the EuroLeague in fourth-quarter plus-minus statistic with +79. It is used to measure a player’s impact, represented by the difference between their team’s total scoring versus their opponent’s when the player is in the game.

Shane Larkin

Mike James leads the EuroLeague in fourth-quarter points with 6.2 per game, with Anadolu Efes’ undoubted leader closely following the American with 5.7. Larkin is the sort of player who is just so scary to face in crunch time – leave him too much space, and he will sink the triple; get too close to him, and he will blow by you with probably the quickest first step around.

In Round 7 against Žalgiris Kaunas, Efes won in overtime mostly thanks to Larkin. The American scored or assisted on all of his team’s last ten points, including making a three-pointer 1.26 before the buzzer to give Efes the lead.

Larkin also smoked Partizan Belgrade in Round 10. He created a whopping 17 points in that quarter and helped Efes turn a ten-point deficit into a six-point win.

Larkin’s excellence against Partizan:

Like many great clutch players, Larkin has not always succeeded in crunch time. In the craziest game in EuroLeague history, where Real beat Efes 130:126 after four (!) overtimes in Round 19 this season, Larkin had the chance to make the Spanish royal club weep and put an end to Efes’ losing streak, but he couldn’t sink the lay-up at the end of the third overtime.


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