By Sam Meyerkopf & Nick Gibson
“After 33 important minutes we lost it all.” – Xavi Pascual
Not 40, 33. Barcelona played 33 minutes of great, intense, and fast paced basketball. Marcelinho Huertas was unshackled today. One-legged three’s, floaters, fast break basketball, and playing in the open court. Huertas is most comfortable when the play is free and easy; times when his creativity can shine through. He along with Ante Tomic’s dominant post scoring led a potent Barcelona attack for 33 important minutes. But 33 minutes of great play doesn’t get you into the Euroleague Championship game.
Real Madrid has a deep roster, the deepest in Europe. At times different players are so potent on offense or defense that it’s tough to know if the starters or bench players should be playing more. Tonight for Real, it was the bench that brought them back. Through 33 minutes Real hung tough. They fought off Tomic’s hooks, Juan Carlos Navarro’s fade-aways, and Huertas dribble penetration. And then after that the explosion happened.
With Sergio Rodriguez, Jaycee Carroll, Rudy Fernandez, Felipe Reyes, and Marcus Slaughter, Real Madrid went on a 17-2 run after the 33rd minute that led to a 74-67 win. And during this time it was the defensive chemistry that propelled them to the lead and eventually, victory. Rodriguez face-guarded Navarro and flew all over the court trying to keep him from touching the ball. Carroll hounded Huertas, forcing him to drive into help. Fernandez poked, prodded, and annoyed Joe Ingles into quick decisions. Reyes got every offensive board he could possibly or not possibly get to. Slaughter held Ante Tomic, who had dominating 18 points heading into the fourth quarter, to zero points in the fourth.
I’ll let Pablo Laso explain it himself after I asked him about the defensive chemistry of this lineup, “Different energies, they move differently. Reyes and Slaughter are not the tallest but can contest people, fight for rebounds. They feel good playing together and you look for the rotation that is best in that moment of the game.”
This group changed the whole complexion of the game. As Laso said about Real’s team strength, “this is the strength of a group, others can come in and pick up the slack for them”. When Barcelona was breathing heavy in the fourth and clawing for every ounce of energy to stay in the game, Real was fresher, which in turn made them hungrier. The reason Real is going to the Final on Sunday is that their depth is close to equal across the board and each interweaving lineup trusts each other. A “second unit” won a Euroleague Semi-Final. But they are the second unit in name only.
What Went Wrong For Barcelona
Today’s first game was sufficient evidence that we’ve got far too much time on our hands between the Playoffs and Final Four. After rehearsing dozens of scenarios in my head to which one fit, none of them included CSKA getting waxed like they did, start-to-damn-finish.
But I had several in which Sergio Rodriguez played the perfect game, plenty where Llull attacked intelligently and put up 13 or more, and nearly every semifinal played between my ears had Reyes pulling down huge rebounds.
And that was Barcelona’s problem: getting game-long consistency from anyone outside of the point, where Huertas sprinkled in solid decisions and big shots throughout the evening.
Tomic had 18 points and 12 boards on the night, but none of those points and only one of those rebounds came in the fourth quarter once Marcus Slaughter gobbled him up and put a forearm in his back.
Navarro’s this team’s unquestioned leader, and checked in the game’s 33rd minute with the game tied at 63. Instead of Bomba Time, it turned into garbage time. Real Madrid went on a 14-4 run the rest of the way and Navarro’s statistical contributions over that stretch read as follows: foul, missed three, turnover, foul, foul.
I was about to wrap this up, but then I remembered that Erazem Lorbek played today. Did you see him out there? Six points, five boards, minimal impact?
Yeah, that’s the one.
Felipe Reyes Is An Offensive Rebound
Four. Four man-sized offensive rebounds. Once a Barcelona player started their shooting motion, there was Reyes sticking his butt out and getting ready to rough some Catalans up to get four offensive rebounds. The beauty of Reyes in these situations is his willingness to get dirty, his positioning, and then his all out fight to get the ball. Most everyone on the court can jump higher than, but his motor to get the rebound is unparalleled. His saving of possessions was crucial and each offensive rebound was another jab to Barcelona’s tired gut. And eventually there were too many jabs and Barcelona was broken. Broken courtesy of Felipe.