Rudy Fernandez showed why he is the ACB’s highest-paid player on Friday as Real Madrid beat Barcelona 78-72 in Game 1 of the ACB finals, writes Austin Green
On a night when Mario Hezonja wore his killer instinct on his shooting sleeve, Rudy — well-known for his flair and his flops — carried Real Madrid to victory with some toughness of his own. Rudy was his usual free-flowing self on offense. He hit 3-of-4 three-pointers and scored a team-high 17 points. In the 2nd quarter, he threw a gorgeous behind-the-back pass on a baseline out-of-bounds play.
— Liga Endesa (@ACBCOM) June 19, 2015
But in crunch time, with Hezonja and Barcelona raging back from a 10-point deficit, it was Rudy’s determination that saved Real. With two minutes left and his team clinging to a four-point lead, Rudy played excellent defense on a red-hot Hezonja. He chased the Croatian around a series of screens, recovered and hung in the air to contest a runner that clanged off the backboard.
One minute later, with Real’s lead down to two, Rudy saved a critical possession. He flew into the lane and tapped the long rebound out to Sergio Llull. He got the ball back, dove into the teeth of the defense, and drew a foul at the rim.
He hit both free throws, Real got a stop on the next possession, and Game 1 was theirs. These are the games that earn you contracts in the multi-millions. These are the games that get you commercials and money for your selfies. And Rudy, despite his diva reputation, sealed this game with his grit.
Of course, he had plenty of help. Three other Real Madrid players — Felipe Reyes, Sergio Rodriguez and Gustavo Ayon — scored in double-figures. Llull added nine point and Jaycee Carroll had a few quick buckets off the bench. K.C. Rivers went scoreless, but he played tough defense in the post and came up with four steals.
Barcelona, on the other hand, appeared to have left their firepower in Catalonia. Outside of Hezonja, no one in red and blue scored more than nine points. Hezonja hit five of his six triples. Everyone else on Barca shot 5-of-18 beyond the arc. Hezonja’s compatriot Ante Tomic, who just signed a three-year extension, was a complete no-show. He got into early foul trouble and finished with more turnovers (3) than points (2). He made just 1-of-5 field goals in less than 18 minutes on the court.
Barcelona should be slightly encouraged entering Game 2. Their youngest player shined, proving yet again he belongs in the spotlight. Their star center can’t possibly play this bad in consecutive games. Their other perimeter players should shoot better than 27 percent from three. But this is a short series. There is little room for error in a best-of-5, particularly against the champions of Europe.
Rudy Fernandez and Real Madrid play a pretty brand of basketball, but make no mistake about it — give them room to swing and they’ll gladly knock you out. Game 2 is on Sunday.
Austin Green is a basketball journalist living in Spain. He runs the website LosCrossovers.com