The four teams in Madrid this week come into the Final Four with the types of back stories that make life a dream for journalists but there is still room for a surprise writes Emmet Ryan.
Let’s take it back. Milano, May 2014. Real were on a road to destiny, CSKA were trying to prove they belonged. Barca and Maccabi…well prior to the games it wasn’t like they were the most fascinating outfits. Maccabi should have been but a whole bunch of us (especially BiE) wrote them off. Barca were going for a second straight El Clasico semi, it was a story we saw a year earlier. Maccabi of course decided to blow everything up by delivering the most extraordinary 85 minutes of jaw-dropping basketball most of us in the press corps will every witness.
This week? A whole different ball game. CSKA come to Madrid confident, really freaking confident. They have played brilliant basketball, they look focused, they do not seem like a team that is going to CSKA. The only thing that could possibly cause them palpitations is…oh right they are playing Olympiacos in the semi-finals. Now the CSKA gonna CSKA story vs A New CSKA battle is going head to head with Olympiacos going for an amazing third title in four years. Spanoulis and Printezis are looking like they normally do at this time of year but the supporting cast isn’t the same as the one that carried them through back to back titles. Can this line-up scare the heck out of CSKA enough to get to a final where everyone will give them at least a puncher’s chance?
And that’s the less complex semi-final pairing.
Real Madrid are hosts at home in the Final Four, a less-common occurrence than you might expect for a competition where 1 in 6 participants make it to the last weekend of games. They have a great win-loss record, they won the Copa del Rey, and they look a whole lot more vulnerable than the Goliath that met its David in Milano. Yet they have home court as they bid to end two decades of hurt. All they have to do is overcome the man who led them to their last Euroleague title.
Fenerbahce come to Madrid as the only team to pull off a sweep in the playoffs, with a mental edge over both the participants in the other semi-final, and a coach who has a habit of winning this trophy. Yet for all that, the Istanbul giants are clear underdogs against a Real team with home court. They had so many years of failing to impress when they had a serious line-up, repeatedly missing the playoffs. Fener would build up hype year after year and fall so far short. It was a running joke on the Phil Naessens show all season where I refused to show confidence in them making the post-season until it was a mathematical certainty.
All of that is the past. Here is the reality. Fenerbahace have a team that can match up with Real Madrid. In Obradovic, they have a coach who knows this weekend better than anyone. They are playing with house money. They are coming to punch Real in the nose. How Pablo Laso’s charges react if and when that happens is fascinating in its own right.
All of these lead up to four potentially classic finals and all of these storylines could prove utter bunk. It’s two days, three games (ok four, I’ll be nice and count the third place game) where anything could happen.