By: Rafael Euehara / @rafael__uehara
Regal put up 86 points. Juan Carlos Navarro scored 21 on 4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Ricky Rubio quarterbacked a great first-half. Pete Mickeal added 14. Gianluca Basile hit some huge three-pointers early in the fourth-quarter.
That’s what most people remember about Regal FC Barcelona’s victory over Olympiacos Piraeus in the championship game last year. That’s usually what most people choose to see about Barça; how many dimensions its offense has and how loaded they are.
Forgotten in between their great offensive performance is that Barcelona shutdown Olympiacos’ low pick-and-roll:
And how their bigs really bothered Piraeus at the rim with its length:
And how Xavi Pascual had them disciplined:
And they helped each other out, just as you’d expect from Europe’s ultimate team team:
Regal held an offense with a ton of firepower to just 68 points, blocked eight shots and slowed down the eventual league MVP, Milos Teodosic.
Barça did fail to close the year in a high note, though, as they were stunned, swept by Caja Laboral in the ACB Finals. Back then, Baskonia still had the best low post presence in Europe, Tiago Splitter, at its disposal and due to Barça’s inability to guard the high pick-and-roll, it was all over in the blink of an eye. (Well, three blinks of an eye.)
With an already loaded squad and none departed to replace, Barcelona only added Kosta Perovic to solidify its already versatile frontcourt rotation last offseason. With the core that won it all last year intact, common sense was that Regal would cruise through in their way to a repeat. That wasn’t the case through the initial group stages, though, as Navarro and Mickeal dealt with injuries.
But since the captain’s return, Barça is back on track as they’ve proved by crushing their way to a King’s Cup title and sweeping their TOP 16 group. Navarro is really important for Regal. They really rely on their catalyst. However, it can’t be overlooked that their defense is what has been anchored their repeat run.
According to in-the-basket.org, Barça ranks third in the EuroLeague defending close-range shooting, holding opponents to 56%. They rank seventh defending the outside, holding opponents to 31.7% shooting from beyond the arc.
Their prolific post defense is the reason for those terrific close-range numbers:
The long-range numbers are what they are because Barça’s scheme keeps people from gunning against them, as they rank fourth in percentage of three-pointers attempted against. Alan Anderson’s addition has added a whole new level of athleticism to Regal’s wing and Xavi Pascual has his team very aware of the importance of activity when defending on-the-ball:
The defending champions have drawn Panathinaikos Athens in the quarterfinals. Aleks Maric remains out and the Greeks have missed a post presence throughout their campaign. They should continue to stretch the floor — PAO ranked 6th in percentage of three-pointers shot, still according to in-the-basket.org. Barça can matchup with it as Fran Vázquez and Terrence Morris, their more mobile bigs, are expected to get extended run.
They’ll have an issue to stop the front-runner for the MVP, though. Ricky Rubio is a better defender than Victor Sada or Jaka Lakovič but the 20 year-old has had a dreadful season and it’s uncertain whether he’ll get to be on the court in crunch time to matchup against Dimitris Diamantidis.
In the end, they project to have the answers. Defense is what got Barça here and defense is what they will ride to overcome Panathinaikos and reach its third straight Final Four.
It’s kind of absurd to say that the most dominant force in European basketball is underrated. And as team, they aren’t. But Barça’s defense is definitely overlooked. Based on everything that has happened this year, if that repeat does materialize, it’ll be impossible to ignore it anymore.
Rafael Uehara is a scout for NetScouts Basketball and the managing figure of ‘The Basketball Post’, his personal website. He’s a contributor for ELA and can be followed on twitter @rafael__uehara or reached via e-mail at Rafael.email@example.com