BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Veteran big man Felipe Reyes was voted MVP of the Finals |
Real Madrid defeated FC Barcelona Regal 79-71 at home on Wednesday night in the deciding Game 5 of the Spanish Liga Endesa Finals to win their first title since 2007 and prevent a three-peat by their arch-rivals.
The encounter had the intensity to match the high expectations it had generated as a do-or-die battle between two of Europe's biggest clubs, but was not dripping with suspense like the previous four games in the series, as Barcelona were always playing catch-up and never came closer than five points in the second half.
Real started off with 10 unanswered points to set the tone to the clash and went up 20-10 two minutes before the end of the first quarter, when Sarunas Jasikevicius stepped on the court for the first time.
The evergreen Lithuanian scored six points and dished out two assists, to big men Loukas Mavrokefalidis and Ante Tomic, sparking a 10-0 Barcelona run that enabled them to tie the scores and then take their first and only lead in the game, 32-31, midway through the second quarter.
The Catalans' lead proved short-lived as Real took a page off their opponents' book, the best defensive side in the ACB all season, mixing half-court pressing with zone defence to go on a 19-1 run bridging the end of the first and the beginning of the second half.
Real could not maintain the 17-point cushion but Rudy Fernandez, Felipe Reyes and Tremmell Darden alternated in coming up with scores with enough frequency to maintain the gap at a minimum of seven points.
When a Jasikevicius-inspired Barcelona fightback cut the deficit to five, 76-71, with less than a minute still to play, Real forced their guests to one more turnover, their 17th on the night, to regain possession and start celebrating the title early.
Former Spanish international and Real captain Reyes sealed the triumph with two shots from the free-throw line, seconds before being named MVP of the Finals, just like in 2007, during the Madrid club's last championship success.
Fernandez, who converted in Game 5 his first shot from three-point range of the Finals after 19 attempts, led Real on Wednesday with 15 points, five rebounds and two assists, Reyes finished with 14 points and five boards, while Darden added 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
With Juan Carlos Navarro trying to play through injury and only having a testimonial presence in the clash, Jasikevicius had 23 points and was the only consistent threat to Real together with Australian winger Joe Ingles, who went 5-for-8 from three-point range and led all scorers with 25 points.
"I think that today we took 73 shots from the field, it has not been our best day on two-pointers, three-pointers, even on free throws," Real head coach Pablo Laso said after the game.
"But our balance of assists, steals and turnovers is probably the best all season."
The hosts had 14 steals and only two turnovers, to Barcelona's two and 17, respectively.
"We dominated the game today but Barcelona kept coming back, because they are a great rival, and we had to reach the last possessions to secure the win."