Kevin Punter: Partizan is definitely a playoff team; we can make a deep run

By Antonis Stroggylakis / [email protected]

For 28 minutes in the game against Olympiacos Piraeus on the road, Partizan Belgrade was putting up a serious fight considering its many absences due to either injury problems or players missing for national team duty and the might and determination of an opponent who was hell-bent on reacting after back-to-back losses at home.

Shortly before the end of the third quarter and with the score 60 – 54, Partizan began to collapse. Fatigue, which was already visible, started to kick in for Zeljko Obradovic’s guys in what was basically a seven-player rotation on a nine-man squad while a poised Olympiacos closed the match with a 27 – 4 run to turn the whole affair into a blowout.

Neither Obradovic, nor Partizan star guard Kevin Punter was looking for alibis for the final result. “I mean… you can use all of those things as an excuse,” Punter told Eurohoops. “But we didn’t play well. They [Olympiacos] played well. You got to credit their team. That’s it.”

“We didn’t play like ourselves and it shows on the scoreboard,” Punter, who briefly played for Olympiacos in 2019, added. “That’s it. They played harder than us and it shows.”

Partizan was missing guard Dante Exum (ankle), forward Alen Smailagic (hamstring), guard Aleksa Avramovic (hand) while guard Danilo Andjusic and wing Uros Trifunovic had joined the Serbian national team for the 2023 World Cup Qualifiers. Center Balsa Koprivica would also be with the latter if he hadn’t injured his hand in the EuroLeague game vs. Panathinaikos Athens.

Despite several ongoing issues, Partizan is currently the only undefeated team in ABA League while standing at a 3-4 record in EuroLeague in its return to competition after 2014. Punter is confident that once the team is healthy and at full strength, then the EuroLeague playoffs is a more than an obtainable goal.

“We’re definitely a playoff team,” Punter said when asked about how far Partizan can go in EuroLeague. “For sure we are a playoff team. The sky is the limit for us. We control everything. We can definitely make the playoffs and make a deep run.”

Punter himself looks like the player who can lead Partizan to a postseason trip in the EuroLeague for the first time since the Final Four run of 2010. The American player himself gained EuroLeague Final Four pedigree as a key contributor during his 2020-21 stint with Olimpia Milano, while also carrying experience in winning other important competitions such as the Basketball Champions League (in 2018 with AEK Athens and as a Final Four MVP with Virtus Bologna in 2019).

Over seven games so far this EuroLeague season, the American player is averaging a career-high 17.9 points on 59.6 percent True Shooting while being the central focus of opposing defenses that prioritize on neutralizing him.

“I don’t know,” Punter commented on if he’s playing the best basketball of his career. “That’s for other people to judge. For me, it’s about continuing to work hard and be the best player I can be.”

Punter seems to have built a particular bond with coach Obradovic. He attributes that to sharing some particular principles and values regarding the game. “Me and the coach have a great relationship,” Punter mentioned. “We have a great understanding. We have the same cause and goals. We are trying to win and have fun.

“His work ethic. His passion. My work ethic and my passion. I can really relate to that. I study hard how he wants the game to be played.”

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