A frustrating second half of the season just got a bit worse for Real Madrid as Los Blancos dropped an absolutely critical home game to Caja Laboral Baskonia, to complete a slow descent from an 11-0 start in the ACB and land the team in third place on the ACB table with two games left to play. (Yes, video below the break!)
Madrid started the game icily enough to go scoreless through 2-1/2 minutes of play, giving Baskonia an early 8-0 lead which would rapidly become 18-7. Despite frenzied contributions by Pablo Prigioni (22 points on 8-of-16 shooting) and ever-scarier Sergio Llull (23 points including 8-of-8 shooting from the free throw line), who also led the furious late-game Blancos comeback, Baskonia simply brought too much on both sides of the ball to overcome.
While Ante Tomic outdid a mass of Blancos on the boards statistically, the youngster often found himself drawing quick double-teams of some fearsome combination of Mirza Teletovic, Tiago Splitter and Fernando San Emeterio with the result that Tomic’s putbacks were put out to the tune of 1-of-8 shooting nearly entirely comprised of attempts from within 10 feet. Splitter even punctuated his dominant performance inside with back-to-back killer swats on Madrid’s final possession.
And while Ettore Messina’s solution of bringing in big man Novica Velickovic worked well enough on the offensive end, with Velickovic dominating his own hoop with five offensive rebounds and 6-of-9 shooting, the Splitter/San Emeterio combination was just as devastating are far more athletic in bringing out all that length from underneath with nice range and insane inside moves: Splitter was 4-for-8 from the floor and 7-for-8 at the line, while San Emeterio was an identical 3-for-4 at each.
All the while, Marcelo Huertas ran the floor at will (dare BiE say “Barcelona-like”?) and simply couldn’t miss; the Brazilian-cum-Italian was good for 17 points and an overall player rating of 23.
The loss dumped Madrid out of the second-place tie they’d held with Baskonia. Since Real is four games up on fourth-place Valencia, the team will go into the ACB tourney in this position – barring a serious collapse by Baskonia, of course.
Unfortunately for Madrid, the only team near the top of the ACB table that’s been skidding are Los Blancos. Since beginning the season with an 11-0 run, Madrid has played at a 14-7 clip. Though .667 ball may be nothing to sneeze at in most domestic leagues, the ACB is of course another story.
Since December, Baskonia has gone 18-4 and generally taking care of business in ACB play, a pace a full three games better than Madrid’s and apparently just enough to overtake their rivals for the critical homecourt advantage in a final four series. Worse yet, since December, Madrid has dropped both games to Barcelona, both games to Baskonia and one to Valencia for a whopping 1-5 record against the rest of Spain’s cream of the crop.
To be fair, however, it should probably be noted that Madrid spanked Baskonia during Copa del Rey play, 78-50, in February. On the other hand … we also recall how Madrid did against You-Know-Who in the finals of that event, not to mention a certain dismal showing in a certain four-game Euroleague playoffs against a certain ACB powerhouse.
Can anything stop Madrid’s slide before it’s the proverbial too late? And what sort of mark will this less-than-successful season leave on Messina’s record, particularly if a similar scenario, i.e. the futile attempt to load up on studs to keep up with Barcelona, faces Los Blancos? One can only speculate.
And here’s to thinking lots of Unicaja fans are suddenly a lot more relaxed about that first-round playoff matchup they’re currently facing…