DEBRECEN (Hungary) - 2020 sure has been crazy but you know things are wild when Novi Sad look rather human.
The four-time World Tour champs are undeniably 3x3's powerhouse having won a ridiculous 141 of 165 games on the World Tour before this season. But Novi Sad struggled mightily in Hungary winning just 6 of 11 games and unable to reach a final from the three Masters.
Novi Sad 🇷🇸 have won an insane 85% of their games on the World Tour😱
Novi Sad star Dejan Majstorovic aka 'the Maestro' identified the team’s defense as the culprit but remained upbeat. "Every year, the first couple of tournaments we played badly but we will play better rest of the season for sure," he said.
Undoubtedly, the surreal events of 2020 and living through the Covid-19 pandemic has created challenges for teams. Novi Sad admit the uncertainties affected their preparation as they looked uncharacteristically out of rhythm in Hungary.
“It was difficult to prepare for the season because we didn't know when it was going to start,” Majstorovic said. “We will practice hard until the next tournament."
“Mentally it's been hard for us," Novi Sad star Marko Savic said. “We were preparing for the Olympics, we set our goal and training camps for that. Suddenly everything was delayed (because of Covid-19)."
Despite the unprecedented circumstances, it was unusual to see a full-strength Novi Sad looking so underwhelming starting off at the Debrecen Masters where they lost on Day 1 to Team Amsterdam, whom they had dominated in recent years.
In the Serbian showdown in the semis, Novi Sad fell short against arch-rival Liman in a confidence blow with their compatriots even stronger after the return of Stefan Stojacic aka 'Mr Robot'.
3x3's best player Dusan Bulut aka 'Mr Bullutproof' was well short of his best in the first masters (4.5 points per game on 36% shooting) but played much better in the Hungary Masters (number 1 in player value) as Novi Sad appeared back on track after a dominant Day 1. They then edged Piran in a classic quarter-final before being upstaged by compatriots Ub in the semis despite Bulut unloading his firepower.
Staring down the barrel of going home empty-handed, Novi Sad were determined at the Europe Masters. But it went from bad to worse when they struggled to score against Jeddah before their campaign ended with a heartbreaking loss to NY Harlem in the semis.
Majstorovic was unable to find his trademark shooter's touch (17% from behind the arc on the 3 events) but revealed he had been battling a slew of injuries this year, including a freak accident when the backboard fell on him resulting in stitches to his shoulder. He later had surgery on his knee and quite clearly wasn't quite himself in Hungary.
"I'm not happy with the way I played in Hungary but I only came back from injury seven days before the first tournament," he says.
The signs were there last year that Novi Sad's 3x3 domination was slipping after being challenged throughout a much more competitive World Tour. But when it mattered most, Novi Sad found their best during a memorable turnaround at the Utsunomiya Final but they couldn't summon the magic in Debrecen.
Even though they struggled, Novi Sad still enjoyed returning to the court and the desire to continue wearing 3x3's crown remains strong.
"It was very exciting finally playing in some tournaments after 10 months," Majstorovic says. "We hope to play in more tournaments this year."
"I want us to be the most dominant team in history with the most medals," Savic said. "That continues to be my motivation."
They might be looking mortal but one thing should be clear.