BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Erazem Lorbek was the hero for Barcelona Regal, sending the game into a second overtime|
Barcelona Regal overcame fatigue and nerves to outlast their arch rivals Real Madrid, 111-108, in a double overtime thriller in the first quarter-final of the Spanish Copa del Rey on Thursday.
The 'clasico' did not provide many plays for a highlight reel but the enormous tension and unprecedented suspense captivated the 15,000 spectators in Buesa Arena of Vitoria and millions who watched from home.
Most importantly, on Friday morning, basketball was on the front page of all big Spanish dailies and the first item of sports news on television, even ahead of football legend Leo Messi and his new contract.
'An eternal classic', read one of the headlines, while Barcelona head coach Xavi Pascual summed up the effect when he said: "It was an historical game, we are content for the win of course, but also for the sake of basketball."
In truth, it could have gone either way numerous times during those 50 minutes, as point guard Marcelinho Huertas only sealed the win for the Catalans 2:9 seconds before the end of second overtime.
The key moment though came at the end of the first extra period.
After JC Carroll put Madrid ahead 93-90 with seven seconds on the clock, Real fouled Erazem Lorbek to prevent Barcelona from shooting a three.
The Slovenia international sunk the first free throw but missed the second and, not without some luck, got his own rebound and hit a jumper to tie it at 93 and force the second overtime.
To put Lorbek's ice-cool moment into context, Barcelona had believed they had, finally, killed the game just two minutes and 37 seconds earlier.
It was then when Madrid coach Pablo Laso called a time-out with Barcelona leading 85-79, and less than a minute later Madrid would be up, 86-85, behind a Sergio Rodriguez-inspired 7-0 run.
Barcelona were the team that tried to pull away all night long, only for Real to come back to balance proceedings, time and time again, and tie the scores at the end of regulation at 77.
|Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez had quiet nights for their respective teams with both on the mend from injuries|
The eventual winners twice led by even as many as nine points in regulation but saw their advantage evaporate, despite the fact they had succeeded in their primary goal, namely not allowing Madrid to run in the open floor.
Real scored their first points in transition only four minutes into the second quarter, and both sides shot a lot, but not well, from three-point range (Madrid were 13-for-39 from behind the arc).
The reason the score line was so high was the second-chance points, as Real especially stayed close in the third quarter mainly thanks to their 14 offensive rebounds, as well as the enormous quality and will to win of all players on the court, from either side.
The two teams' biggest stars, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez, both ignored their poor physical state after injuries and rushed back to play the big game and as a result neither had their best game.
Real succeeded in the first half to neutralise their former player and Barcelona's leading scorer this season, Ante Tomic.
But when the Croatian big man finally started receiving the ball in the low post, he went 7-for-9 from the floor and finished with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Tomic registered an efficiency rating of 33 and is the unofficial MVP of the clásico, but it is hard to imagine Barcelona would be in the position to win were it not for Pete Michael.
The veteran forward turned back the years and was just unstoppable at times on offence, going 10-for-14 from the floor to lead all scorers with his 26 points.
Lorbek's cool head also proved key in Barcelona's win and he finished with 17 points and four rebounds.
Young forward Nikola Mirotic was almost infallible for Real until he fouled out, and finished with 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
The duo of Sergio Llull and Rodriguez showed vast reserves of determination at times.
Llull led all Real scorers with 23 points while Rodriguez had 18 points and eight rebounds in defeat.
CAJA LABORAL BASKONIA BOOK SEMIS SPOT
In the second quarter-final, CAI Zaragoza tried their best during an entire half against Copa del Rey hosts Caja Laboral Baskonia and even by one point at half-time.
But the hosts stormed out of the locker room to win the third quarter 29-13 and effectively put the game beyond the reach of their guests.
Caja Laboral won 88-64, behind 17 points from Polish international Maciej Lampe and 16 from Frenchman Thomas Heurtel.
Power forward Pablo Aguilar had 23 points for Zaragoza in defeat.
On Friday, Valencia Basket take on Asefa Estudiantes in the third quarter-final while Herbalife Gran Canaria face Uxue Bilbao with the last available ticket to Saturday's semi-finals at stake.