Warschauer Straße is within sight of the arena at Ostbahnhof, but the games of the Alba Berlin basketball players can usually only be guessed at between tourists, party people and the hustle and bustle of the neighbourhood. But on Friday evening, happy people in yellow or blue shirts were flocking in the direction of Halle long before the first jump ball, on bikes, in cars, on the train. Even if the spectator response was better than this season, a final against the big rival from Munich is of course a must for Alba’s fans.
Shortly before the first jump ball, they formulated their demand on the team on a large banner: “Do it again!” A year ago, the Berliners defeated FC Bayern for the first time in the final for the German championship and after the first of a maximum of five finals of the current season good for Alba again. In front of 10,567 spectators in their home arena, the defending champion won 86:73 (22:20, 18:23, 21:19, 25:11) after a strong final quarter. It was Alba’s 18th consecutive win at national level.
“It distinguishes us that we don’t stop,” said Albas Louis Olinde. “We were five points down at the end of the third quarter, maybe it didn’t look so good, but we just kept playing.” The second final will take place on Tuesday (7 p.m.) in Munich.
Just in time for the high point of the season, Alba had the entire squad at his disposal for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Marcus Eriksson was fit again after four months out through injury, but the Swedish three-man specialist stayed behind the rink, just like Tim Schneider, in civilian clothes.
The Berliners went into the game with a supposed advantage. After beating Ludwigsburg 3-0 in the semifinals, they had a whole week to prepare for the first final. The Munich team didn’t even have 48 hours after their victory in the decisive fifth semi-final against Bonn. Like Alba, however, Bayern are used to regenerating quickly and adapting to a new opponent in the shortest possible time due to the long Euroleague season. Especially since it was the fifth meeting of the season on Friday and there are no secrets between the teams. The hardships of the past few days were not visible to Bayern for a long time.
The Munich team understood very well how to take away their greatest strength from the Berliners: the fast, creative game. The visitors lost just four turnovers in the first half and it was clear why the two teams are putting up the best defenses in the league this season. The tough, rather slow game traditionally benefits Munich – and that was also the case on Friday.
Neither former Bayern professional Maodo Lo nor captain Luke Sikma found their rhythm and so the Berliners lacked offensive ideas. Neither team was able to pull away clearly, but over the course of the second quarter the impression grew that the guests felt more comfortable with this type of basketball – and in Andreas Obst they had a reliable long-range shooter. The fact that Alba had only nine assists at half-time, less than Bayern, summed up the events quite well.
But the series against Ludwigsburg had already shown that the Berliners can also fight if necessary. Yovel Zoosman hit some important threes, Tamir Blatt set the scene for his team-mates and Alba always stayed within striking distance. The crowd cheered the team on even more loudly after a few controversial whistles and the game turned around towards the end of the third quarter.
Tiredness was slowly making itself felt in Munich and their error rate went up. Christ Koumadje equalized with a crashing dunk and when Louis Olinde stuffed the ball into the basket in the fast break, not only the Berlin winger roared his joy out into the world. Bayern coach Andrea Trinchieri tried to bring his team back into the game with a time-out, but it didn’t help – and the first part of Berlin’s mission was accomplished.