BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|"We had one single horrible night [in the Euroleague semi-final], but you cannot leave a team for dead and buried because of one night. Especially a team that has been dominant in recent years." - Xavi Pascual |
(photo: Germán Parga/FC Barcelona)
FC Barcelona eked out an 83-81 win over Real Madrid on Thursday night at home, in Game 4 of the Spanish Liga Endesa finals, to reclaim the domestic league title from their eternal rivals.
Few would have imagined, during an uneven campaign this season and especially 40 days previously to Thursday's encounter, that the Catalan giants would conclude the year covered in glory and claim their fourth championship crown in the six seasons of coach Xavi Pascual's tenure.
On the night of 16 May in Milan, Barcelona suffered a 100-62 thrashing at the hands of Madrid in the Euroleague semi-final, their heaviest defeat in recent history.
Earlier in the season, Barcelona had lost to Real in the Copa del Rey Final and they finished in third place in the regular season behind both Madrid and Valencia.
Yet they went to edge out Valencia in the play-off semi-finals in early June, winning three times on the road, and then out-gunned Real 98-93 in Game 1 of the finals in Madrid, to claim the home-court advantage.
"I think that we are the team which has put in the most work than any other team on the continent," Pascual said after Thursday's triumph.
"Our dominance during these years has been spectacular.
"We've been in the finals every single season in every ACB competition, I think it was with merit and that it defines an era.
"It's true that it had been a year and a half since our last title [the 2013 Copa del Rey] but the world doesn't revolve around us, we play against other strong teams.
"People have been very unfair to this team during the season," the Barcelona coach replied when asked about Barcelona's uneven season.
"In the first part of the season we said that it would cost us time because of all the new faces in the team, and it did.
"But we've played at a high level since January.
"We were unfortunate to lose the Copa del Rey because of [Sergio] Llull's game-winner.
"We had a solid Euroleague campaign and yes, we had one single horrible night [in the semi-final], but you cannot leave a team for dead and buried because of one night.
"Especially a team that has been dominant in recent years.
"I also want to thank Pablo Laso for his gesture to come to our locker rooms to congratulate us, especially considering his condition."
The Real Madrid head coach had to travel to Barcelona and work in the third and fourth games of the series in a wheelchair, after tearing his Achilles tendon in Game 1 and undergoing surgery after Game 2 of the series.
|Juan Carlos Navarro was named Finals MVP for the third time in his career |
In the decisive fourth clash on Thursday, Barcelona assumed control of the encounter right from the start, led their guests by as many as 12 points on two occasions and went on a 9-0 run midway through the third period that appeared to be dealing the final blow.
With less than 15 minutes remaining on the clock Laso was ejected by the officials for protesting and Barcelona captain Juan Carlos Navarro sunk two free throws to pull Barcelona ahead 61-49.
Real Madrid looked dead and buried at this point, but this incident-packed finals could not possibly conclude without a thrilling finale.
As if surprised by the prospect of clinching the win in so comfortable fashion, Barcelona suddenly looked unable to negotiate the Real Madrid defence after this point and went on to score only 15 points in the following 14 minutes.
Every missed shot by Barcelona breathed a little bit of confidence into the Real players, who wasted countless opportunities on the other end but still managed to tie the scores at 76 going into the final minute.
With every basket worth its weight in gold and nervousness preventing the players from hitting their shots, fans in the sold-out Palau Blaugrana arena braced for overtime, which looked almost inevitable.
But with 24 seconds left on the clock, Maciej Lampe received the ball in the corner following a lapse in the Madrid defence and drilled a three-pointer that made it 79-76 for Barcelona.
It was the Polish international's first basket on the night and it was good enough to gift Barcelona the title as Madrid's Sergio Rodriguez missed a hurried shot from beyond the three-point arc on the other side of the court and Alex Abrines gave the Catalans a five-point gap from the free-throw line.
Croatian international Ante Tomic paved the way for Barcelona with 22 points and nine rebounds and Navarro added 14 points, while Rudy Fernandez had 13 points for Madrid in a losing effort.
Navarro, who averaged 15.5 points and 2.5 assists in the title series was voted MVP of the finals for a record third time in his career.
The Spanish national team captain has surpassed fellow Spanish international Felipe Reyes and Lithuanian legend Arvydas Sabonis, who have both earned the honour on two occasions.