TEL AVIV, Israel — Regal Barcelona put on a defensive clinic in Tel-Aviv against Maccabi in a round of 16 showdown between two of the powerhouse teams in the Euroleague. Barcelona’s stable of big men and heady guard play were too much for Maccabi to overcome, giving the Spanish squad a big 71-57 road victory.
Barcelona’s frontcourt features two NBA prospects in Erazem Lorbek and Fran Vasquez, whose combination of size and skill was too much for Maccabi. With Sofoklis Schortsanitis limited to 8 minutes due to foul trouble, Lorbek and Vasquez were able to dominate the paint.
Lorbek was quietly included in the George Hill trade over the summer, and could end up being a big piece of the San Antonio Spurs’ future.
He has excellent footwork, a great outside shot and is one of the craftiest inside players in the game today.
After being selected in the draft lottery in 2005, Vasquez has remained overseas, opting to hold off his debut in the NBA. Against Maccabi, Vasquez showed excellent mobility, great movement off the ball, and his excellent pick and roll defense helped prevent Maccabi from getting into their offense.
Vasquez pondered coming to the NBA this season, but with the uncertainty of the lockout, he opted to play at least one more year in Spain. If the Magic can retain Dwight Howard, Vasquez should be able to step in and fill the gaping hole behind Howard since Marcin Gortat was traded to Phoenix last season.
This hard fought game last Thursday epitomized the enormous difference between the NBA and the Euroleague. Throughout the first three quarters of NBA games, teams often take shots early in the clock as they catch their defenders sleeping early in possessions. However, in this game, almost every shot for both sides came with less than 5 seconds left on the shot clock.
Both teams gave incredible effort on defense, and it was obvious that both teams spent a great deal of time over the past week preparing defensively. Click here for the box score.
For better or worse, European coaches focus more on playing team basketball than showcasing individuals. Maccabi (9-3) gave minutes to all 12 players and Barcelona (8-4) used 11 in a game that was close until the last two minutes. Barcelona’s Juan Carlos Navarro, the leading scorer in Euroleague history, came off the bench, despite being the leader of the team. No one player took more than 10 shots, and there didn’t appear to be any isolation plays for any player not named Keith Langford.
The NBA obviously is head and shoulders above European basketball in terms of talent, but there are only a few NBA teams that come with the preparation and execution that both of these teams showed.
Why don’t more NBA teams who don’t have a dominant star player go with a more European approach? It would seem that in absence of a big star, during a tightly-packed 66-game season, it would be a good idea to spread around the minutes and opportunities to make your team less predictable, build chemistry, and keep the legs fresh, similar to what Hubie Brown did during his time with the Grizzlies.
These types of match-ups may not bring the same type of entertainment as the Bulls-Heat game last Sunday, but the level of execution brought by both teams are a joy for basketball purists.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel.