Two teams teetering on the edge, two series remarkably similar in a few outstanding features. With FC Barcelona one game from elimination at the hands of Caja Laboral Baskonia in the ACB championship series, BallinEurope – like so many others – is looking for answers to the Blaugrana’s mysterious woes.
Perhaps some might be found in watching that other series … you know, that one about Lakers-Celtics. After all, that championship pits a team of stars against a team greater than the sum of its parts. That championship has a season-starting favorite against an underrated perpetual contender.
But most importantly, that championship isn’t over, either. Can the Los Angeles Lakers turn things around? Sure, we believe. So certainly hope is not gone from Barcelona’s quarters, either, but the uncharacteristic performances of games one and two must be addressed if there’s to be any tomorrow for ostensibly the best team in Europe.
Throw in the tapes, Blaugrana, and study up on the NBA Championship Series. BiE’s five-part formula for a Barcelona comeback would include the following tenets.
• Juan Carlos Navarro must produce. Barcelona’s first two losses can’t be blamed on any one player or any one factor (much as everyone wants to point fingers at the outrageous 10-day layoff the Blaugrana had to suffer after so quickly exterminating Unicaja in the semifinals), Navarro was looking to be a desperately needed go-to guy after averaging 16 points per game over his last 16 games going into the Baskonia series.
Since then, nada. While managed 17 points in game one, Navarro’s red-hot 50-plus percent shooting since April evaporated in the ACB championship heat and the Chocolate Man instead was “good” for 5-of-15 shooting. In game two, Navarro did a swell homage to Claude Rains in managing to foul out while contributing a big four points in 23 minutes of play.
One analyst noted over at the ACB official website that, with a good game from Navarro “everything changes radically” for Barcelona. With Ricky Rubio and Gianluca Basile’s problems, however, there’s even more call for Navarro to shore up the backcourt on both ends of the floor. One man may not be everything in basketball, but a Barcelona comeback in this series depends on Navarro.
• Adapt defensively. Over in the NBA finals, the big switch in the Los Angeles defense since the last full-on Celtics-Lakers meeting was to put Kobe Bryant on Rajon Rondo, a move that has kept the insanely dangerous Rondo mostly at a management level.
What’s important, though, is not just the matchup: It’s *how* Kobe plays Rondo. By leaving Rondo a distance of at least six feet, Bryant has a better opportunity to prevent a pass to a converging wing and still have enough time to body up on Rondo going to the rim.
In the first two games, veteran Gianluca Basile has gotten playing time early in substituting for the ice-cold Rubio; this was a tactic that worked in the Euroleague championship game when the youngster started throwing nervous turnovers around in the second half. And the truth is that Basile is still not shooting well enough (he’s 2-for-7 overall) while playing a step slow on defense against the too-quick Marcelinho Huertas, who’s starting to resemble a series MVP against this suddenly soft Barça D.
So why not change the spacing a bit here? Why can’t Basile play off Huertas a bit and just surrender the outside shot. It certainly beats letting Baskonia have their choice of jumpshooters to the tune of 47% (24-of-51) overall in game two – and that was with Tiago Splitter effectively neutralized inside.
• Speaking of Splitter, it’s time to take some risks on defense. To wit: Pete Mickeal and Terence Morris simply must be on the floor together more often. Barcelona was +10 in point differential when both Mickeal and Morris were in the game, making well more of an impact than even their 21 combined points would imply.
With both of these guys effectively playing the lane, the deadly Brazilian pick-and-roll tandem of Huertas and Splitter simply could not get going and a consistent double team stifled Splitter while disallowing so many of the easy rebounds the Baskonistas were gifted in game one. (The 6’3” Huertas with eight rebounds? Fernando San Emeterio with nine?)
The result: Baskonia managed a single offensive rebound while Barça turned a six-rebound gap into an eight-board advantage from one game to the next. And the killer M’s dominated the second quarter to give the Blaugrana a five-point halftime lead.
On offense, Morris especially is no scoring machine, but consider the damage the big twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum do for the Lakers when the L.A. post game is working – in the regular season, Rubio filled the Kobe role in creatively breaking down defenses to create the open big man (typically Mickeal). While the Human YouTube Clip has been absent in the first two games, opportunity for mismatch exists on nearly every play in the half-court offense on one of these guys and BiE dares say it don’t take a Rubio to find them.
So you may have to leave some points on the bench with Morris and Mickael in: Big deal. The overall effect these two have could win Barcelona the series while some flashier scoring player gets all the kudos – ¡Remember defense was your bread and butter this season, Xavi Pascual!
• Tweak the rotations. Neither of the final lineups Pascual put on the floor in the first two games made a heck of a lot of sense, albeit the game two choice having been made necessary in part by Navarro’s silly foul out. Yet shooters have been constantly employed when defenders would do and vice versa – what gives?
Though Pascual would surely like to believe Barcelona’s Phoenix Suns-like offense can last indefinitely, Baskonia seems to be utilizing the Celtics’ ugly up tactics and forcing Barça to play a more physical game. But Barça can actually beat Baskonia on muscle as well … if, for example, a usually overmatched Erazem Lorbek weren’t playing so damn much. Or if Boniface N’Dong were getting more time (and if he could be convinced to shoot less often).
So why not just go big and/or limit quality minutes as much as possible to seven guys, maybe eight if you include Lorbek? With as wispy a bench as Barcelona is bringing to this thing, you’d think they’d model after that purple-outfitted team with a handful of stars and a buncha dudes like Adam Morrison and D.J. Mbenga on the roster.
• Like Phil Jackson told his team – correctly and badassedly, BiE might add, despite the criticism the Zen Master took for his snideness after the loss – “They’re showing us they know how to lose.” Well, Baskonia tried hard to lose in game two, hemorrhaging points in the game’s final 10 seconds, essentially spotting Barça six points, possession and 2.7 seconds to tie up a two-point game.
What was Barcelona missing? Play in the clutch. To paraphrase Bryant, what FC Barcelona needs in game three and heretofore in the series is simple: Some bleeping cabrón must step up for this team for fear of relegating them to a historical footnote.
Game three of the ACB championship series tips off tonight at 8.30pm CET (2.30pm EST). You can watch the game live or taped at the ACB 360 website.