The former Real Madrid player scored 18 points, the majority before the break, and was well supported by Delaney’s scoring breakthrough after the restart (15 points), while the most prominent in the Barcelona team were guard Kyle Kuric (22 points ) and power forward Nikola Mirotic (18 points).
After going slightly behind at halftime (28-34), the team led by Sarunas Jasikevicius came back in the third quarter (54-47) but was overtaken in the final period by Ettore Messina’s pupils (19-28 in partial) in a very even game marked by the defenses.
The Barcelona team heeded Jasikevicius’s wake-up call, who in the previous alerted of the team’s defensive downturn in the last month and a half, and initially exhibited a defensive tension that, however, was accompanied by a low percentage of success in the shot ( 5 of 11 in shots of two and 1 of 5 in triples).
Equality was the dominant trend in the first period, with minimal alternations on the scoreboard and in which ex-Madrid point guard Sergio Rodríguez stood out with 10 points (14-14, end of the first quarter).
Barça tried to open a gap in the light through the power in the painting of pivot Brandon Davies, recovered at the last minute like forward Sergi Martínez after overcoming covid-19, but two consecutive triples from power forward Nicolò Melli and Ben Bentil (7 points at halftime) caused Jasikevicius to time out (21-22, min.14).
Both teams defended tooth and nail every inch of the court without finding answers in attack and the intensity of such an even contest did not escape the benches, as both Jasikevicius and Messina were sanctioned with a technical foul for their protests (25-27, min. 18).
Five points in a row from Sergio Rodríguez, leading scorer at halftime with 15 goals, gave AX Armani Exchange Milan a slight advantage (28-34), while Barça continued to deny the shot (3 of 12 in triples compared to 5 of 8 of the Italians) and had Nikola Mirotic and Kyle Kuric as offensive leaders with six points.
Barça’s torrential exit after the break, with a 9-0 run led by five points from Mirotic, turned the score around (37-36, min.24) and lit up Palau Blaugrana.
Driven by the encouragement of their audience, the Catalan team redoubled their defensive intensity and began to score fluently, with Kuric (9 points in the third quarter) and Nico Laprovittola joining Mirotic to extend the set to 19-2 (47-38 , min.27).
The offensive contribution of ex-Barcelona player Malcolm Delaney allowed AX Armani Exchange Milan to maintain a deficit below double digits at the end of the third quarter (54-47) and the Italian side went back to the beginning of the final quarter (58-56, min. 34 ).
The outside success of Jokubaitis and Kuric returned the advantage to Barça (63-59, min.34), but Sergio Rodríguez and Delaney, with the same recipe, made it clear that the game was not going to be decided until the final possessions (65-67 , min. 38).
A Davies basket made it 67-70 with one minute to go and Kuric scored three to make it 70-71 with 30 seconds left. Next, Delaney seemed to sentence from the perimeter but another triple by Mirotic put it 73-74 with five seconds left.
Barça missed Melli, who forgave one of his two shots, but Laprovittola’s desperate launch over the horn ran into the iron, leaving the final 73-75 on the scoreboard.
The crossing of the first round in Lombardy lands had resulted in a victory for the Messina team (75-70), but the Barça fans still remembered Barça’s epic triumph in the semifinal of the Final Four last year (84 -82) thanks to a basket in the last second from guard Cory Higgins.
73 – Barça (14 + 14 + 26 + 19): Laprovittola (6), Kuric (22), Hayes-Davies (-), Mirotic (18), Davies (11) -initial team-, Sanli (2), Sergi Martinez (-), Smits (2), Higgins (1), Jokubaitis (11) and Nnaji (-).
75 – AX Armani Exchange Milan (14 + 20 + 13 + 28): Sergio Rodríguez (18), Grant (6), Bentil (8), Melli (8), Hines (8) -starting team-, Kell (4) , Tarczewski (-), Ricci (-), Hall (8) and Delaney (15).
Referees: Olegs Latisevs (LET), Fernando Rocha (POR) and Milan Nedovic (ESL). Without eliminated. They signaled a technical foul to the local bench and two to the visiting bench.
Incidents: Meeting of the twentieth day of the Euroleague played at the Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona before 4,430 spectators. Before the game, local Nikola Mirotic received the award for best player in the competition in December.