By: Nick Gibson, Sam Meyerkopf and Rob Scott

Caja Laboral finally shook off their little brothers from down the road, taking this one 72-65.  Down ten at the half, Lagun Aro definitely had them worried, after Jimmy Baron had checked in just before the first quarter break and then dropped 16 points in 11 minutes. Mirza Teletovic got it going early, but it took until the second half for his teammates to join in.

The unlikely second half hero was Milko Bjelica, who finished with 22, dining like a king (or Rey, rather) from the dishes served up by Pablo Prigioni on the pick and roll. Lagun Aro were in this until the final 90 seconds, and only lacked a bit of composure, and perhaps one more big body to take the load away from Baron, Neto and Vidal on the perimeter.

David Doblas grabbed seven rebounds but he’s not a player you need on the floor in crucial situations. If a few clumsy turnovers could have been averted at in the clutch, this game may have gone right down the final buzzer. As it was, Lagun Aro have to be content with a credible defeat.

Why Caja Laboral Won

Caja Laboral played this game like a killer hand in poker.  Confident, under control, and immune to panic.

In the first half Lagun Aro couldn’t miss and had all the momentum, but thanks to veteran toughness (looking at you, Pablo), Caja Laboral weathered the storm.

Lagun Aro had no answer for Caja’s drives or their post play, and in the second half the team from Vitoria worked the interior extensively with Mirza Teletovic (17 points) and Milko Bjelica (22 points).

They knew Lagun Aro would bet big at the start, tossing up as many long distance bombs as they could and gambling on defense, trying to force the battle-tested Caja squad into mistakes. But Dusko Ivanovic’s troops had faith that their talent and experience would slowly take hold of the game.

They were right.

Caja Laboral worked methodically, rushed Lagun Aro into turnovers and absolutely pounded the paint when Lagun went to a four-guard lineup in the fourth quarter.  The ageless Pablo Prigioni had a brilliant performance and closed out the game with his pesky defense and efficient offense.

Pablo. Milko. Mirza. A killer hand, indeed.

Why Lagun Aro Lost

Andy Panko and Jimmy Baron are sitting in the locker room at halftime. Barron has 16 already, Panko—the ACB’s leading scorer—has only mustered four thus far.  Having held a potent Caja Laboral offense to just 28 points and scored 38 themselves over the first 20 minutes, they’re feeling anything but panic.

And then Sito Alonso said…what, exactly?

“Hey guys, great half. Everything you’ve done well though? Yeah, growing bored of it.  Let’s mix things up out there; pass up open lay-ups, miss some free throws, live a little!”

[Note: Probably didn’t go down like this.]

Whatever Alonso did or did not say is immaterial at this point. Lagun Aro’s Copa del Rey is over because they abandoned the aggression and conviction that  made their first half fun to watch.

Twice Sergi Vidal scoffed at open lay ups, opting instead to dump them off to cutters in traffic. Caja Laboral gobbled them both up for turnovers.

Jimmy Baron abandoned his off-balance jumpers, which kept Caja Laboral’s defense equally off kilter.

Lagun Aro made four of their five throws in the first half. They missed seven of nine in the second.

Rarely does playing not to lose achieve the desired result. Tonight in Palau Sant Jordi, the story was no different.

Star Who Sucked

Sucked is maybe too strong a word, but for the ACB’s leading scorer, Andy Panko didn’t do quite enough.  His three pointer during Lagun Aro’s 9-2 run that sparked their comeback helped set up a close finish, but that was where it stopped.

In the first half Jimmy Baron’s three point bombs kicked the legs out from Caja Laboral, Neto and Salgado probed, but Panko drifted in and out of the game. He finished with 14 points but it took 4/10 from inside the arc, 2/6 behind to get there, and it wasn’t enough.

If Lagun Aro were going to stretch their Copa debut beyond tonight, it was likely that they’d need more than just Baron’s scoring, and Panko couldn’t get them there. I could have chosen Fernando San Emeterio’s zero points, -4 ‘valoracion’ in 23 minutes, but that’s the luxury of playing on a team like as Caja Laboral—Milko Bjelica stepped.

Lagun Aro’s margin for error is a lot tighter, and Fernando gets a chance tomorrow to atone against either Barcelona or Alicante.

Sucker Who Starred

When Nemanja Bjelica hit a three in the third quarter, I thought to myself Well, he’s already the best Bjelica in this game.

After all, Milko Bjelica squeezed only five points and a single rebound out of his 14 first half minutes. He also turned it over twice.  Not pretty.

Then Milko went all freaknasty on Lagun Aro in the second half, and finished with a team high 22 points, four boards and a million reasons to shrug it off the next time he has a rough half.

Prospect Watch

The youngsters involved in tonight’s match, broken down.

Raul Neto  |  PG  |  Lagun Aro

Raul stepped into manhood in the first half.  He was cutting at will to the basket and playing with no fear.  Lagun played well behind him and he helped engineer a big run that had Lagun up 10 at the half.  Neto played solidly in the second half, but Lagun needed him to play spectacularly if they wanted to match Prigioni and Caja.  Overall Neto had his eyes all over the court, darting passes to open teammates looking to spot up and keeping everyone under control on offense when he could.  His weakness was small moments were he wasn’t totally in control and caught off-guard by the aging-but-sneaky Prigioni steals, that provided to be detrimental.

Thomas Heurtel  |  G  |  Caja Laboral

Didn’t play that much because of how well Prigioni was doing.  When he was on the floor, he looked to attack on offense and had a couple of his patented pull-up jumpers go down.  Huertel provided a small spark off the bench in his limited minutes. In short, he did what he’s paid to do.

Lagun Aro Faithful Put Up A Fight

Outnumbered by their Basque neighbours and separated in opposite corners of Palau Sant Jordi, the faithful from San Sebastian made themselves well and truly heard. From the boisterous band outside the arena and throughout the game, they contributed to a mini-classic.

If we’re marking out of ten, these guys get a 9.

Dumb Headline Pun(s) We Almost Used

Spilled Milko: Bjelica Makes Lagun Aro Cry

Got Milko? Bjelica and Baskonia’s (Vitamin) D Key Second Half Surge

Don’t Ask, Don’t Teletovic: Mirza & Co. Silence Andy Panko