By: Nick Gibson, Sam Meyerkopf and Rob Scott
Sergio F’in Llull. There’s no other way to say his name right now. MVP of the Tournament, top scorer tonight with 23, he attacked early and often, hit two buzzer beating threes to close quarters and led Madrid to drop 91 points on a Barcelona team that had allowed 54 and 57 in the tournament’s first two games.
Jaycee Carroll hit 14 points in the final stanza to snuff out even the faintest hope of a Barcelona comeback, Carlos Suarez went to town on Pete Mickeal in the post, and Mirza Begic had perhaps his best all-round performance in a Madrid jersey, dominating the paint, particularly in the first half.
Real Madrid had taken some lumps in recent weeks, at home and in the Euroleague. Neither of the two wins that put them in this game answered any of the doubts that people had about the ability of this time to beat the best teams in Europe, when it really mattered. Could they stick with a Barcelona team that forced everybody to play their way? Could they play a halfcourt game and still win?
To answer the first question: they didn’t have to. Madrid shot 62% from inside the arc, and pounded the ball inside. Carlos Suarez in particular had his best game this season, using his strength to bully both Chuck Eidson and Mickeal down low.
This was a high octane offense, but everything was within the flow of the game, in the first half at least. After the break, Barcelona prevented the ball from going inside so much, but Madrid continued to hit from long range, so it didn’t really matter. This wasn’t a fastbreak offense running wild, it was just flawless, relentless execution, at the highest level. Llull’s swagger as he dribbled away the clock to finish the third, putting the stutter on Sada then swishing the stepback three was a perfect demonstration of Madrid’s dominance tonight. Barcelona no longer scared them.
Playing like this, why would anyone scare them?
Madrid might have put up 91 points, and won by 17, but Barcelona pulled it to within one point at 52-51 in the third, after Lorbek hit successive pick and pop threes. The Slovenian was the consensus choice for tournament MVP going into the game, but the length and quick feet of Nikola Mirotic bothered him without fail for most of the game. He had 3/6 from three point range but only 1/5 inside the arc.
Just as Lorbek had pulled Barcelona back into contention with most of the ferocious 15,128 fans behind them, Jaycee Carroll sank three consecutive, cold-blooded triples from behind the arc to sink daggers into the hosts.
Boniface N’Dong did put up 19 points and have a couple of huge jams and blocks, but none of that established any kind of foothold in the game for Barcelona. Only when Lorbek and Navarro warmed up in the second half did it feel like Barcelona were the better side, although the lead only felt really safe when Begic’s putback dunk put Madrid up 79-61 with 4 minutes remaining.
The final few minutes played out with a hazy sense of disbelief. Madrid turned in probably the finest performance in European basketball this season and sent a message to the continent that they aren’t finished just yet. Bilbao and Siena are officially on notice.
Why Real Madrid Won
You know how they tell you offense wins game but defense wins championships? Today, Real Madrid proved that offense plus even more offense wins you the Copa del Rey.
Real Madrid started the game going big with a lineup of Llull, Kyle Singler, Suarez, Mirotic and Tomic. Playing Singler and the two and Suarez at the three was a clear attempt to match Barcelona’s size, something that few teams have the personnel to do.
It worked: in the first half Madrid banged, knocked around, and pushed Barcelona to a nine-point half time lead.
The second half strategy was entirely different, but worked even better. It was all about finding open shots and hoping they would fall down.
They did: Carroll made poured in all 22 of his points in the second half and his hot shooting suffocated any thoughts of a Barcelona come back.
Yet even with all the physical play and solid shooting, it was Llull who stole the show tonight. He came out firing, scoring 10 of Madrid’s 22 first quarter points and making a statement about how this game would be played. As the game wore on he continued to control the tempo for Madrid on both sides of the ball, while also maintaining his scoring prowess. Llull is an amazingly exciting player and if he is able to run an offense without sacrificing his own scoring, the Madrid offense can soar to even higher heights than they’ve been this season.
No matter what he does, it might be hard for Madrid to ever top tonight’s output. Putting up 91 points on the best defensive team in Europe (in their city, mind you) isn’t just good; it’s one of the most iconic Copa del Rey championship game performances we will ever see.
Why Barcelona Lost
As one Barcelona player after another sulked out of the locker room after the game, it struck me that I’d never seen the Spanish champions cope with a loss. Heads down and hands in pockets, human interaction didn’t appear to rank too highly on the “Things I’d Like To Do” list.
Yet among the individuals who shared today’s loss, Boniface N’Dong was the least culpable. His 19 points in the final were a team high, and his strong performance throughout the entire Copa left us wondering if we’ve been taking his extreme reliability for granted.
So why would I tell you why Barcelona lost when you could just listen to Boni: “I think they wanted the Cup more than us.”
Star Who Sucked
Marcelino Huertas has suffered, if that is an appropriate word, from the Barcelona point guard conundrum – to accept team success at the cost of individual glory. Xavi Pascual uses Victor Sada as a defensive fire blanket, and when it works, he keeps him in. Minutes for a playmaker like Huertas, who isn’t the strongest defender, can soon slip away.
Llull torched him in the first quarter, bringing Fireman Sada off the bench. Trouble was, it didn’t work, Llull barely even noticed as he blew by Sada just as he had done to Huetas. Pascual’s offense can run through Juan Carlos Navarro, who had 5 assists, and its easy to get lost – just ask Ricky Rubio. But more was needed from one of the most talented playmakers on the continent.
Sucker Who Starred
Usually I’d avoid a repeat winner; for Mirza Begic, I will gladly make an exception. He came into the game late in the first quarter and enforced the no-fly zone within a few possessions, swatting two shots and changing the minds of others who dared dribble in Mirza’s general vicinity.
He’s been Pablo Laso’s best option defensively all season long, and another crazily efficient offensive night (5/7 for 10 points and 4 boards in 21 minutes) should earn him some more burn the rest of the way. If Madrid makes it to another Euroleague Final Four against the Moscows, Barcelonas and Panathinaikoses of the world, Laso will need all 218 centimeters of Mirza Begic to slow down Europe’s best bigs.
After thriving this weekend, Begic appears ready to do just that.
Xavier Rabaseda | G | Regal Barcelona
Xavi Rabaseda hung in the background for the second straight game tonight. He only played sparingly, but when he did check in, he was much more passive than the Rabaseda who scored 16 on opening night. When Barcelona needed players to break out of the normal offensive system and provide some “carry us on your back” plays, Rabaseda was too timid to even try. He’s got the explosiveness to break through to the rim, but just doesn’t have the motor to continually attack the basket.
Madrid’s Fans Travel Light, Yell Loudly
After the trophy presentation, the entire Madrid team went over to their small bunch of fans in one corner of the arena. Nikola Mirotic’s primal scream of joy as he waved a Madrid ‘Beserkers’ flag to the jubilant fans wasn’t just about tonight. It was about the monkey finally being off their back when it comes to their arch-rivals, and their first Copa for 19 years.
Dumb Headline Pun(s) We Almost Used
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