Sunday, December 10, 2023

The best match of the year

Today at 7:00 p.m. in Kaunas, the best basketball game that can be seen this year will be played. Regardless of whether you like basketball more in the NBA or in Europe, we cannot doubt that today’s game is different because of how much is at stake. Real Madrid and Olympiacos play a single game in the Euroleague final. All or nothing in forty minutes of play. In the American competition we all know that the title is disputed by the best of seven games, which gives you a large margin to rectify any mistake you may make in any of the games.

This afternoon that does not happen, there is no room for error. Not to be afraid either. It is a game for the brave, for guys who don’t wrinkle. Madrid has a few. When the moment of truth has arrived, despite the important casualties of Yabusele due to suspension and Deck due to injury, El Chacho has appeared. The Canarian player, as if it were Benjamin Button, is having a spectacular season finale. He was already decisive in the quarterfinal playoff against Partizán in that incredible comeback from zero to two with which that tie began. On Friday in the semifinals against Barça he did it again. His readings in the direct blocking provided Tavares with easy baskets, a Tavares who showed another more decisive game in the two rings. Al Chacho was accompanied by Rudy and Llull. It is true that both in a less decisive role, but always giving a level of knowledge of the game, not burning the ball in his hands when things get tense, which is a boost to competitiveness for his team. To them must be added Musa’s scoring ability; the energy of Williams – Goss, Ndiaye (Chus Mateo has also been a brave man pulling the kid out of his hat at this time), Hanga; the option of playing with four exteriors at the same time, opening the field a lot with the contribution of Hezonja. And of course Tavares, the most decisive player in European basketball.

This time they appeared in Kaunas without being favourites, having been beaten by Barça on several occasions this season both at the Palau and in Madrid. In addition, it seemed that the Catalans reached this Final Four less physically worn out and in better shape than Mateo’s team. In fact, they dominated the first half even with some superiority. But I don’t know what happens when the moment of truth arrives, Mirotic dissolves like a sugar cube, the old Madrid rockers take control of the game and when the moment of truth arrives, the wrists of Jasikevicius’s players shrink and the who seemed finished, it turns out that they are very alive and give their team that peace of mind in the game that makes the youngest score and display all their talent without pressure.

In front they will have Olympiacos, the best team in the regular season, which dynamited the other semifinal in an impressive third quarter, destroying the most physical team in Europe, Monaco, with a resounding 27-2 run in those ten minutes.

Olympiacos is possibly the best defense in Europe. They have a very physical team but not for that lack of points and quality. And they count on Fall. The Senegalese center of two meters and eighteen centimeters will try to be the anti Tavares in both paints. In addition, they have Sloukas, the best point guard in the Euroleague; Vezenkov, who puts points and talent in the position of four; energy, with Papanikolaou, Mckissic (the best one-on-one player in Europe), Black or Bolomboy; Outside shot with Canaan and Larentzakis… A great team, full of talent and physical energy that bases its game on sharing the ball and being the best defense in non-NBA basketball.

Surely all the bookmakers favor the Greek team. And it is logical. Also many of the basketball connoisseurs. It also has its logic since, not in vain, they have been the best team throughout the season.

But when you face Madrid, especially in a final, logic loses all its reason. Sometimes you don’t know how but guys always compete. And when the wrists shrink, when the fears appear, they feel more comfortable. Then Chacho comes out, takes the game by the ears and begins to play direct blocking with Tavares, always reading when he should put it in, when he has left the Cape Verdean alone, or when another teammate has the advantage and must assist him.

Today it will be key to hold the energy in the game of the Greeks. For this, they will surely use at some point that zonal defense that lately helps them reduce the importance of the energy factor in the rival’s offensive game. Also knowing how to attack the substitution defense that Olympiacos uses. And, of course, take the match to be even, so that fears and pressure appear, because in that game they are the best. The game has it all, which is why it is undoubtedly the best basketball game of the year.


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