The last time Real Madrid made a Euroleague Final Four, Maccabi stomped on them 82-63 in Barcelona to advance to the 2011 Finals. Two years later, Real Madrid is the first Euroleague team to ensure their place in the Euroleague’s final weekend.
This year it will be in London. The team Madrid swept to get there?
Fittingly, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Madrid got the third and clinching victory today in Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena by a score of 69-57.
Six current Real Madrid players played in that semifinal loss two seasons ago–Nikola Mirotic, Sergio Rodriguez, Mirza Begic, Sergio Llull, Carlos Suarez and Felipe Reyes–but it was Jaycee Carroll who came up with some of the biggest plays of the day for Los Blancos. Surprisingly, not all of them included shooting a basketball from far away.
The first came as time was expiring in the first quarter. Madrid had been dominating the entire frame and were up 14-5 when two Ricky Hickman drives led to five straight Maccabi points. First, Hickman head faked right and then ricocheted into a single dribble and finished with his left; then, Hickman drew a crowd on his way to the rim and bounced one to Shawn James, who finished through the foul and then converted the free throw to boot.
Maccabi’s two best players had cut a very hopeless-feeling 14-5 to a manageable 14-10, and more importantly, they’d rustled Nokia Arena from its collective snooze. With the clock running down and momentum suddenly in Maccabi’s favor, Nikola Mirotic shot a lifeless step back jumper over Guy Pnini that fell desperately short; instead of shot gazing, the 6’3″ Carroll slipped right in between David Logan and Moran Roth to catch Mirotic’s dying duck and put it instantly back up and in before the backboard went red. Madrid jogged to their bench up six instead of four, and with Maccabi’s fans in their seats instead of on their feet.
But David Blatt and Maccabi had learned from that first quarter’s fleeting success, and Hickman continued to challenge Madrid’s guards off the dribble in the second. By them in a blur, he drew interior defenders twice and made the right decisions both times: first another drop off to James for two, the next time a baseline-to-wing kick that found David Logan for three.
Yogev Ohayon’s foot-on-the-line three finally tied things at 30 with 2:03 left in the half, but a Sergio Rodriguez pull-up three put the Madrileños back on top heading into halftime.
In the third, Ohayon tied things up again at 38 and gave Maccabi the lead at 40-38, and Logan–who played in last year’s Final Four with Panathinaikos–stretched that lead to four with a bucket in transition.
One flick of the wrist from Carroll after a Pablo Laso timeout and that four-point cushion shrunk back to one, and then Sergio Llull free throws wiped it out for good. Once Madrid had their lead back, Rudy Fernandez graced us with his first three points of the evening and Carroll dropped in an easy one on the break as part of a 10-0 Madrid run.
With the third quarter drawing to a close and Maccabi down six, Hickman tried to head fake left and drive right: the same move that had led to a lay-up back in the first quarter.
Only this time, Carroll knew where Hickman was going and poked the ball loose once it hit the floor. Carroll scooped it up near half court and zipped toward the rim, chased by a frustrated Hickman. Hickman caught up just as Carroll went up for the two-handed jam; Hickman leapt for the block, missed, and landed hard underneath the basket as Carroll dangled from the rim by one hand, directly above him.
Those two demoralizing points put the deficit at 52-44 going into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, Fernandez, nerves apparently undeterred for the entirety of his 3-for-13 shooting day, drained a pair of insane fadeaway threes–one from each wing, and the first over the fingertips of Defensive POY candidate Shawn James–to push Madrid in front by nine and then again by 13.
Finally, Carroll hung in the air with a hand in his face and made it 67-51 with four minutes left. It was Carroll’s second triple of the day, and it effectively erased Maccabi’s final remnants of hope.
Carroll finished up with 16 points on the day, a team high. Game two’s hero Sergio Llull had 13 points in the clincher while the other Sergio (Rodriguez) scored 12.
James led Maccabi with 18 points, while Logan, Ohayon and Hickman trailed with 11. Logan and Hickman also combined for all four of Maccabi’s threes on the day, with two each. It’s not easy to construct multiple comebacks when you’re making 22 percent of your long tries (4-of-18).
Devin Smith scored just two points on the night and averaged a meager 4.7 points per game for the series. This came after putting up 17 PPG in the last seven games of the Top 16 (note the disheartening decline in this game log) and being named the Euroleague’s MVP for the month of March. Nik Caner-Medley was held scoreless in 13 minutes after averaging nine per game in the first two.
Real Madrid’s opponent in London will be either Barcelona or Panathinaikos. Both have won Euroleague titles in the past three years (Barcelona in ’10, Panathinaikos in ’11) and they’re currently locked into the league’s most entertaining set of games. After hitting a game winner to tie the series 1-1, Dimitris Diamantidis hit another huge shot tonight to give Panathinaikos the 2-1 edge in that series.
Real Madrid split their four meetings with Panathianikos 2-2 this year, as they met twice in the regular season and then again in the Top 16. Panathinaikos won the last meeting by a single point, 74-73, on Madrid’s floor behind 30 points from old timers Diamantidis and Kostas Tasartsaris.
The only time Madrid faced Barcelona this year, Madrid was looking to become 15-0 in the ACB when Juan Carlos Navarro dropped these 33 points and ruined Madrid’s perfect Spanish season.
So if you’re Madrid, you either get Barcelona, your sworn Catalunyan enemies and bringers of both offensive and defensive statistical domination, or…this guy.
There will be no easy path to Madrid’s first Euroleague title since 1995.