By: Seth Rubinroit / @srubinroit
According to most standards, FC Barcelona Regal has had a largely successful season. Employing one of the stingiest defenses on the continent, the squad sits in first place in the ACB and will travel to Istanbul later this month for the Euroleague Final Four.
Yet Barca had one pesky blemish on its otherwise impressive season résumé: two consecutive losses to bitter rival Real Madrid in 2012.
After Real Madrid won their home ACB match in January, they handed FC Barcelona Regal an embarrassing 91-74 loss in the Copa del Rey final in Barcelona in February.
“If you look at the game, they made unbelievable shots but they also played harder than us,” Barca center Boniface Ndong said of the Copa loss.
Thursday night with the Euroleaugue Final Four just eight days away, FC Barcelona Regal had another opportunity to play with more intensity and get revenge against their Spanish rivals. Real Madrid quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter, but guard Juan Carlos Navarro scored 16 points after halftime to spur a comeback in front of a rocking Palau Blaugrana crowd desperate to feel Catalonian pride after losing the El Clásico fútbol match just 12 days earlier.
“This felt like a Final Four game,” Barca forward Pete Mickeal said after the 86-83 win. “It was a tough, tough game.”
Mickeal, who has played in Spain for six years, called this Real Madrid team the “best” he has ever faced.
“They do not miss,” Mickeal said. “They have so many weapons inside and outside. They have everything.”
While the final score of Thursday’s contest was higher than most FC Barcelona Regal matches, Barca managed to hold Real Madrid to 35 points in the second half.
“Our defense is our strong point, while Real Madrid has a high-octane offense,” forward CJ Wallace said. “We try to make them play our game, and they try to make us play their game, and usually we meet in the middle. If we keep them under 85 points and we play good offense, then we have a chance, but we cannot let them get into the nineties. Our style is holding teams to fifties and sixties, but you are not going to do that to a team with as much talent as Real Madrid.”
Seth Rubinroit contributes to ELA from Barcelona, where he lives and studies. But mostly lives. Follow Seth on Twitter @srubinroit.