This is actually pretty great. Euroleague has put together a short film following all four Final Four teams through Thursday and Friday. Gives a great look inside the game and is really well produced. Take 9 minutes to check it out.
In just a few hours we will know who the champions of Euroleague for the 2013/14 season are. Real Madrid are the favourites but Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv will have the crowd on their side. Emmet Ryan makes his call.
The dramatic finish to Maccabi’s semi final win over CSKA Moscow was incredible. The Israelis gutted it out to snatch a win at the death. It’s hard to see such a miracle comeback happen a second time if they fall into a hole against Real Madrid.
The ACB champions delivered one of the most dominant displays in Final Four history as they routed Barcelona on Friday night. Pablo Laso knows that if his side can get ahead early, it’s tough for any team to keep up. Despite sweeping Maccabi in the Top 16, Real were pushed all the way in both games. The Tel Aviv club matches up well in most positions with RMB. Real have superior talent but not so much that their are any mismatches that could prove liabilities for Maccabi.
Fundamentally it comes down to how Maccabi slow Real’s offence. The only way to live with Madrid is to stop them scoring in bunches. Twice this season, Maccabi have managed that but still come up short. Still, it bodes well for a competitive match-up.]
Then there’s the not so insignificant factor if the crowd. This will be a home game for Maccabi. As I sat down to write this the blue and gold horde was already building up outisde. They will be loud and make this feel anything like anything but a neutral site game.
Real’s pursuit of history brings pressure to their squad. It’s been 19 long years since they were crownd champions of Europe. Every player in white knows the burden they carry but, based on their display against Barca, it looks as much as source of motivation as one of pressure.
For all of Maccabi’s heroics on Friday and their stout displays against Real this season, there is a lingering fear that this could be another runaway win for Real. Barring an absolute meltdown by Maccabi early on, that shouldn’t be the case but it’s still hard to see them toppling the uncrowned kings of the continent. Real will ascend and claim the throne.
Matching the hysterics, both on the court and amongst the fans, of the first game was always going to be a challenge for El Clasico. Even combined, the fanbases of Real and Barca were dwarfed by the now recovering Maccabi support. The Real support, situated mostly to the left of the upper press tribune, did their best to make some noise but this was always going to be a game where the crowd was of minimal influence.
Barca got off to the stronger start, with Marcelinho Huertas, Ante Tomic, and Kostas Papanikolaou help them into early eight point lead, forcing Pablo Laso to call timeout. A Marcus Slaughter dunk heralded the Real resurgence and they cut Barca’s lead to 13-12 before Xavi Pascual called time out. The arrival of Sergio Rodriguez made all the difference. Chacho’s three to give Real back the lead signalled the Euroleague MVP’s intent. Defensively Real started to click better after getting killed on their own glass early. RMB looked far from steady on D but they did enough to let their offensive power prove telling. At the end of the first it was all square at 20-20.
Real made the early going in the second, Rudy Fernandez giving them a four point advantage for the first time in the game. Rudy had struggled through the opening quarter but seemed to find more comfort as the play became more scrappy. Chacho hit another three and then two frees to push Real further out and with four minutes gone in the frame, Barca had yet to score. Salaj Mejri compounded the pain for Barca. Pascual called timeout with his side trailing 31-20. A three from Juan Carlos Navarro finally got the Blaugrana on the board but Felipe Reyes replied from deep immediately for Real. Rudy kept the pressure on as Real fought to maintain their double digit advantage. Brad Oleson and Tomic brought Barca back within single digits but Real looked well in charge, 45-37, at the break.
Ballineurope’s Emmet Ryan caught up with Brad Oleseon, Erazem Lorbek, Jacob Pullen, and Joey Dorsey of FC Barcelona at Thursday’s Final Four practice.
“They are a very dangerous team in transition. When they get out in transition they get confidence and make threes,” Brad Oleson told BallinEurope.com.
He made the comments at Thursday’s practice ahead of Friday’s Clasico, a Euroleague semi-final with Real Madrid. Oleson said Barcelona’s recent win over Real Madrid in ACB could play a psychological factor in the games.
“When losing, teams tend to get focussed, when winning teams tend to relax a little bit. Hopefully we didn’t relax too much these last five days,”
Erazem Lorbek said the win had given his team a mental boost ahead of Friday’s game. “It’s a big game, every year we play them many times, and it’s always difficult against Real Madrid. They have beaten us many times but we got the last win, which we wanted, hopefully it will help us,” said Lorbek.
“We are pretty confident that we can do it, we are very focused but we will see tomorrow on the court. The game will be tough.”
Despite the win in their most recent clash with Real, Joey Dorsey said there is still room for him to improve on his performance.
“Coming into the game, the guys have got confidence. The biggest thing is coming to the Final Four with a lot of confidence. I know in the last game they beat us on offensive rebounds so it’s my job to take care of that,” said Dorsey.
Jacob Pullen said working with Xavi Pascual had helped him develop his game this season. “He does a great job of teaching, he’s taught me a lot. He’s also asked a lot of me and when I wasn’t able to do as much he made sure I knew that he still believed in me,” said Pullen.
For regular updates of all the action in Milan, follow BallinEurope on Twitter.
BallinEurope only went 6 of 8 in picking the teams to make the post-season and one of those sides we didn’t have faith in won’t be happy with how we see the playoffs shaping up. It’s fearless prediction time.
Barcelona vs Galatasaray
Pick: Barca in 3.
So we didn’t think Galatasaray would make it this far and now we’re saying there roll a doughnut in the post-season. Harsh? Perhaps but we’re standing by it. Barcelona’s slump at the end of the Top 16 can’t disguise a 22-0 start to Euroleague this season. This team is going to Milan, the question is how many games it will require. Much as Galatasaray deserve credit for holding their nerve in the wild battle for fourth in Group F, they look to have drawn a pairing suited to exploit them. If it’s any comfort, we seem to have given Pops Mensah-Bonsu some added motivation.
Real Madrid vs Olympiacos
Pick: RMB in 4.
This was a tough call to make and not for the reason you might think. Real Madrid look to have the most complete team in Europe this season. If they weren’t utterly unbackable, I’d take RMB to walk into a 2-0 series lead without blinking. The question in my mind is whether they will be able to finish the Reds off quickly or if it will require them going back to Madrid. In the end I split the difference and called it Real in a 3-1 win.
CSKA Moscow vs Panathinaikos
Pick: CSKA in 5.
Honestly, this was the easiest call of the lot. You could slot in any opponent and I’d have trouble believing this CSKA team would take care of business the easy way. It’s just not been their style all season. If any series goes the max, this will be it. Panathinaikos still look capable of taking care of business back home but neither of the Greek giants looks like final four material this year.
EA7 Milano vs Maccabi Elektra Tel-Aviv
Pick: Milano in 4.
This is about as good a style match-up as Milano could have hoped for. They have the weapons to hurt Maccabi and to do so repeatedly. Home court in the final four isn’t something that comes around every year and that’s plenty motivation for Milano. It could have been a source of nerves but the maturity this outfit showed in the Top 16 makes me think otherwise. For the first half of that phase Milano kept stumbling, not quite doing enough to convince skeptics like me (who said they wouldn’t make the post-season) of their worth and then boom they caught fire. The Barca win is what most remember but the change had already happened. They had evolved from could-bes to probablys.
So where have I gone horribly wrong? Please vent your frustrations in the comments.
It may be March Madness across the Atlantic but Euroleague served up plenty of insanity this week as the races for the final playoff spots entered crazy territory. Emmet Ryan breaks it all down.
The story of this week should have been the return of Zeljko Obradovic to the OAKA and, in fairness, it was but only barely. The love-fest for Zoc’s return was quite heart-warming under any circumstance but moreso considering the importance of Panathinakos’ game with Fenerbahce. The Greens took the lead in the race for the final two spots in Group E with a 76-67 win over Fener. The whole celebration has been documented well by Eurohoops who also did a great job on Twitter in the build-up with their #ReturnOfZoc tweets.
That win not only moved Panathinaikos to 6-5 and third spot but also gave them the season head to head advantage over Obradovic’s side. Olympiacos ran riot over Baskonia but they only hold fourth on tie-breakers over Unicaja and Fener. Malaga for their part looked limp in defeat against visiting Barcelona. The Blaugrana moved to 21-0 in Euroleague play, 11-0 in Top 16 play. A win next week and top spot is their’s, fortunately if that does happen their two dead rubbers almost certainly won’t influence who makes the next stage. EA7 Milano effectively ended any shot at the playoffs for Anadolu Efes and look certain to take second spot following their 76-69 win.
Before I move on to Group F, on behalf of the whole BiE family I’d like to extend our support to all of our readers and followers in Turkey. With Twitter being blocked, you guys responded the only way you should have; by finding ways around the block. This is not a political site but we believe that everyone should have a voice. There is nothing right with silencing people, it was good to see so many of our friends finding ways to keep their voices.
Fenerbahce are in free fall while the Greens and the Blaugrana served up another gem. Take your mind off the FIBA World Cup for a minute and take in this week’s edition of The Dish.
The top two in Group E squared off in the OAKA and at half-time it looked like the Blaugrana would stroll out with an easy W. Fortunately, the fixture Panathinaikos vs Barcelona rarely serves up such straightforward fare. Dimitris Diamantidis nailed a huge three at the end of the third and we were all set for a grandstand fourth quarter. And then…nothing. In a frame low on offence, Barcelona did enough to get over the line with reasonable comfort, the Greens go down 56-63 at home.
Had this group started out differently, we’d be talking about that result as a game the Greens could really have done with winning. Instead the team in crisis is coached by the man who brought four Euroleague titles to the Athens club. Fenerbahce were first hand witnesses to EA7 Milano establishing their playoff credentials. Linas Kleiza dropped 26 for Fener but they got nothing from the bench and that lack of support cost them on the road. Fenerbahce are now bottom of Group E, two games back in the playoff race after just five games.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this week’s Euroleague slated consisted of one game and one shot, we begin with the latter.
Efes? Really Efes did this? And Planinic? Wow, it’s like all the mockery of the club and Zoran (there was plenty on Twitter through the evening) was channeled into one wild moment of positive energy. Well, that’s the most sense I can make of it. There are buzzer beaters and there are you are taking the proverbial beaters. This was somewhere north of the latter. The score obviously meant a lot to the Istanbul club but it had wide ranging implications across Group E. Let’s start with EA7 Milan, that one moment of misfortune dropped them to 2-2. That keeps them locked with Unicaja Malaga and Olympiacos and only a game clear of Efes, Fenerbahce, and Baskonia. It is, of course, a tad on the early side to start talking permutations but none of those bottom three teams needed to lose extra ground to Milan. Planinic made sure they didn’t. Now on to the title of this week’s column.
The slate is clean for the Top 16. We’re breaking down what we know about each team in the second phase, what we want to know, and what we think we still won’t know after 14 rounds of action. We went through Group E yesterday, now it’s time to look at Group F.
What we know: They are an offensive monster. Going 24-0 in all competitions to date, this is the best start enjoyed by any Real Madrid team ever.
What we want to know: Their weaknesses. Even a team this good has to have some but nobody’s come close to testing them yet.
What we won’t know: How they handle a low-scoring match-up.
What we know: They are so Maccabi. This team is business-like but stops well short of flashy. Yup, sounds like what we expect from this outfit every year.
What we want to know: How they stack up to RMB.
What we won’t know: Their ceiling. This is the weaker of the two groups and a 10-4 record is possible without causing any major shocks.
What we know: They are flawed. Talented, yes, and en route to the playoffs but inconsistency has dogged this team when it was the one aspect Ettore Messina was expected to fix this year.
What we want to know: If they can settle on their best line-up.
What we won’t know: If any of this matters. In a flip from last year’s team, the ability to get hot in a hurry may be this side’s saving grace.
Galatasaray Liv Hospital
What we know: They are weaker than their record. All statistical measures outside the W-L column point to this team being in much worse health than the regular season record indicated. Over 14 games, that’ll be tough to mask.
What we want to know: If there’s a plan longer than half a season.
What we won’t know: See above.
What we know: They are survivors. No VTB League campaign, struggling in LKL, yet here they stand in the Top 16.
What we want to know: How they are going to balance their priorities.
What we won’t know: What the long-term future is.
What we know: They are seriously motivated to make an impact in Euroleague, as evidenced by a regular season where they silenced many doubters.
What we want to know: What was on their bulletin board to get them so fired up through the autumn.
What we won’t know: Where to buy a good beer in Krasnodar.
What we know: They will give one of the top three teams in this group a heart attack on their home court.
What we want to know: If they can play consistent enough to mount a real challenge for the last playoff spot.
Whzt we won’t know: If this is a renaissance or a blip.
What we know: They are the most dangerous looking team from the Bundesliga to enter the Top 16 in a long time, which admittedly isn’t much of an achievement.
What we want to know: If they can capitalise on a soft group and get that last playoff spot.
What we won’t know: The date at which all of Europe should realise these guys ain’t playing anymore and a real power is emerging out of the Bundesliga.
Fearless prediction: Real to take top spot, Maccabi to squeeze CSKA for second, leaving the mother of all fights for fourth. Kuban look the best bet on paper but…this is a fearless prediction so nope. FC Bayern to steal it from the cookie jar.