Real Madrid lifted the maximum continental competition, the Eleventh, after linking five consecutive victories in less than a month.
Madrid lifted this Sunday at the Zalgirio Arena in Kaunas (Lithuania) the eleventh European Cup in its history. An impossible conquest in his eighth participation in a Final Four of the last ten played (in 2020 it was canceled due to COVID). A title that places the whites as the best club of the 2013-2023 period: Since they lost in the final in London against the Greek Olympiacos, their victim this Sunday, Real has three more Euroleagues than anyone else, breaking the tie with the Russian CSKA Moscow and the Turkish Anadolu Efes, with two a head. The Turkish Fenerbahçe, the Israeli Maccabi Tel Aviv and the aforementioned Olympiacos share the other three.
A trophy that captains Rudy Fernández and Sergio Llull raised to the sky in Kaunas when only 24 days ago it seemed impossible. But let’s put context. On April 27, at the WiZink Center of the Community of Madrid, Partizán Belgrade placed the quarterfinal tie 0-2 in their favor. The numerical disadvantage was not so much the problem as the feeling of overwhelming superiority on the part of the Balkans. It didn’t seem like there was any way Madrid could get their hands on Zeljko Obradovic’s men.
The last three matches against Partizan: May 2-10
However, the brawl that ended the second duel at 01:40 from the end, changed the quarterfinals forever. The sanctions against Kevin Punter (two games) and Mathias Lessort (one), further weakened the squad partisan than those of Guerschon Yabusele (five) and Gabriel Deck (one) to that of Chus Mateo, who recovered Walter Tavares for the limit duel in Belgrade. The most dominant center on the Old Continent, MVP of the Final Four, missed half of the opening match of the quarterfinals and the second due to injury.
In a blazing Stark Arena, with more than 20,000 spectators, the Cape Verdean center established himself as a monster above the divine and the human. He destroyed Partizan on the inside with 26 points and 11 rebounds for a 41 PIR at first. Two days later, in the fourth duel, he played the planet destroyer again: 15 goals and 7 captures for a PIR of 30. An explosion of force impossible to stop, as a buoy in attack and an impassable fortress in the area imposed by Mateo. And to which Mario Hezonja joined as a fake four for the loss of Deck, with an outstanding stewardship work (14 rebounds in the third game and 6 in the fourth) and Sergio Rodríguez, who since he took his wand out for a walk in Belgrade has not sheathed it.
El Chacho was essential on the first day in Serbia. With Madrid on the canvas after a hurricane first quarter for the Balkans (32-19), the canary came out to teach high-level basketball lessons. And he did nothing special. She pulled from classics. He went to the most basic basics. Simply, with pick and roll central with Tavares as a means of terrorizing the rival defense. And it didn’t fail. Neither that day nor in the four following duels because if you covered the connection with the African, the point guard messed it up for you in the penetration, in the medium-distance shot and, even, with a triple that he pulled out of his sleeve like the one that opened wide the victory in the final against Olympiacos. He didn’t need much more. With just a blink of an eye, he left all his rivals reeling, from Partizan to the red army going through Barcelona.
In the last, in the fifth, with an infernal palace that never stopped believingRodríguez was the white will. The one who took the baton from the good minutes of the rookie Ndiaye and the imposing figure of Tavares to row until turning around a game that was lost (-18 in the 23rd minute), to a historic tie (no one had come back from 2 -0 or 0-2), along with Rudy Fernández and Sergio Llull. The “old men”, as Andrés Nocioni wrote in a tweet.
“The entrance of Chacho was very important because he began to shout like a real veteran, you have to listen more to people like that, because of their voice, their experience. He first raised me and then the whole team. Exactly, he told me that if I lowered my head, he was going to raise it; she has lifted us all”, Mario Hezonja said after the first duel at the Stark Arena. His ambition, his magic, his leadership were key to traveling to Lithuania.
The Final Four: from May 19 to 21
The comeback changed everything. From shame for the WiZink tangana to total trust. It could. There was nothing impossible. The verb could be made meat. The two clear victories against Valencia and Gran Canaria in the Endesa League prior to the Final Four corroborated this. The smiles, the faith were full despite the fact that on the horizon, in the semifinals, a Barcelona in full bloom awaited. It didn’t matter that neither the injured Gabriel Deck and Vincent Poirier nor the suspended Guerschon Yabusele could play. Until the end…
There was nothing and no one that could stop them. And they weren’t empty words. They showed it before some culés who suffered the experience, the discipline of their rival in the semifinals. Jasikevicius’ men found themselves completely outclassed by the whites in a second half in which they found no way to break their eternal rival, who walled off the defense with the already special zone Mateo and that he left his opponent to die from the outside line to qualify for the final.
In the last round, it was Olympiacos who became his victim, as in 2015 in Madrid, to lift the Eleventh. To be kings of Europe again with a heroic basket from, who else, Sergio The incredible Llull, when few trusted them. And above all, on the board of Chus Mateo. To sit back on the throne of the Old Continent on a crazy trip of just 24 days.