Six years have passed since the last time Unicaja played the semifinals of the CBA. Six years that have been a true ordeal for the club and its fans. More for his fans since the bank continued to make a great economic bet. It is true that not like the glory years of the team with Scariolo, but the budget remained among the most powerful of the ACB. Players with large salaries continued to be signed, transfers were even paid, but it is clear that the management from the club’s offices was not the most successful.
Now everything has changed. This team has done more in just nine months than all the teams, players and coaches that have come through here in these six years. And it is that they have filled the Carpena. This is the greatest achievement that has been achieved above, even, the Copa del Rey.
Now, after sweeping Tenerife in the quarterfinals (sweeping, it seems incredible), Unicaja is planted in the semifinals to face off in a five-game playoff against barca. We all understand the difficulty of winning three games against a Euroleague Final Four team. But it gives me that those who are not very happy with the crossing are the Catalans, because they know perfectly well that this Unicaja can keep their physical pulse.
The people from Málaga come into this confrontation with morale through the roof, with zero pressure and ready for the tie to be long. It is as if they did not want to go on vacation, as if the ambition of this team was not satisfied after winning a title and being in the Final Four of another. And this is known by those of jasikevicius. Many say that that locker room is not at its best, so they should be careful because they could find that Unicaja steals the home court factor in one of the first two play-off games, which will be played in Barcelona.
What should Ibon Navarro’s men do to win this play off? The main point lies in the same thing they must do to win: defend at a great physical and active level. Defending well is an obsession for all coaches. We have all heard, even used, hackneyed expressions such as ‘the attack can win a game but the defense wins championships’. In today’s basketball no one doubts that without defending it is impossible to win. But it is that Unicaja needs to defend at a very high level to compete. And this is because the Malaga attack begins with the defense. It allows them to run and play very short possessions in just a few seconds, situations in which they have a high success rate, scoring many points. But it is that, in addition, his defensive intensity is essential to dominate the rhythm of the game.
It’s fresh in everyone’s memory the BCL Final Four, where there were high hopes to achieve the title. In those two games that Unicaja played, he did not show the best defensive version of him. He defended at his best level only a few times and it was not enough. He had options to win both games but ended up losing them. Without going any further, last Friday in the second game against Tenerife, we saw in the first quarter how it was dominated by Tenerife because the Malaga defense was at the mercy of what Lenovo proposed. The best example of what I’m telling you was this, in that first quarter with the defense folded, Unicaja could only score thirteen points. However, when the team reacted defensively, when the intensity appeared, they not only dominated the rhythm of the match, they not only passed over Tenerife. In the next three quarters they averaged 28 points per quarter.
When they defend, they recover possessions, they run, they can attack arriving without the opposing defense being organized. When they have to play five against five they have more problems. It is evident that they have improved in their static game, but there is no doubt that they are much happier when they play in the open field. Perry, the clear leader of this team, is arguably the best outfield player in the competition.
In front of the Barça it will be fundamental give the best defensive version of the year. But other fundamental aspects will open up to master. The most important will be the rebound. The Catalans know that by loading the attack rebound they stop that Malaga game of playing the counterattack. That is why it will be essential to master the defensive rebound.
Well, everyone is ready to experience an ACB League semifinal after so many years. And I think we are going to live it with real options to give a lot of war. And they know it…