Hi again, everyone. I am Jamon Lucas of Galatasaray Medical Park, and a lot has happened since we last talked. Most importantly for our team, three wins happened to us. Although they didn't just happen. We've been coming together all season and played our cards right throughout the Top 16. Now, going into our last game on the road against Olympiacos, my old team, we have a chance to go all the way to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Playoffs. That's further than anyone expected of us before the season, when we had to come through the qualifying rounds just to play in the Euroleague. It's been a long road since then, but we've proven beyond a doubt that we belong. Now, let's see if we can prove we deserve a shot at the Final Four in Istanbul.
It was against the same Olympiacos team that our run got started last month, and if you think about it, the way we won showed the kind of strength that has made the rest of it happen. We were winning by 10 points going into the fourth quarter and by 3 with 11 seconds left. There were 8 free throws after that, all good, and then Kostas Sloukas hit the shot of the year for Olympiacos, from way on the other side of halfcourt, to send it to overtime. That's the kind of shot that swings momentum, and it could have changed everything. But instead we came back to take it in overtime, and that remains a crucial win for us.
Our only loss since my last blog came in Moscow, where CSKA was working on a 12-game winning streak when we arrived. We tried to stay with them, but became the 13th victim. We knew it was going to be a tough game, of course, so our objective was to get a feel for them and to learn for the next week, when we would play CSKA at home again. We have a lot of confidence playing at home. Our fans give us a great boost, and in fact, every game we played at home this season, we've been in. We lost three times at home before CSKA arrived - to Barcelona, Siena and Unics - but none by more than 4 points.
So when CSKA came to our gym in Istanbul the next week, we had already learned from our mistakes. We wanted just to play hard and keep it close enough to have a chance to win. And that's exactly what we did. There are no secrets with our team. We don't have any star we depend on. Every night it's someone different. Our quality comes from playing together and fighting for everything we get. And that night it all came together against CSKA. I was able to get a couple of baskets going into the final minute, and then my teammates Josh Shipp and Ender Arslan finished it off at the foul line. This time the difference was 4 points, too, but in our favor. CSKA's undefeated season was over and we were in the playoff hunt.
We gained a lot of confidence from the CSKA game. It let us know that we can play with everybody, even the best team in Europe at that time. At the same time, we don't want to get too high after a game like that, just like we don't come down too hard after a bad game. But we learned that we can play against the best when we play together, and now - after eliminating Anadolu Efes with a home win last week - we have to take that confidence forward to Piraeus.
I know Peace and Friendship Stadium well. And I know that gym is going to be packed, probably sold out, this Thursday. Olympiacos will be ready to take revenge for us beating them. But we'll be ready, too. For both of us, it's a do-or-die championship game. That will make for a great atmosphere. And as I said before playing them the last time, it's a good matchup between two guard-oriented teams. Both teams are similar in other ways. Both like to run, play tough defense and maintain a high rhythm on both ends of the court. There's no doubt we have to try to stop Vassilis Spanoulis, who's playing better right now than almost anyone in Europe. We'll need to keep him off his game and take their crowd out of game by keeping them from fastbreaking, so we can play our halfcourt defense. I'd say what we need most is transition defense and confidence from beginning to end.
There's one thing that's great about a team like ours, one that plays together all the time. When you have that kind of attitude, the team is capable of getting better and better with each game, much more capable of improvement than a team that relies on a certain player or two. On this team, all our players come to play every week. And every week it's getting better. If we can do it again on Thursday, we'll see you in the playoffs.
Jamon Lucas - Istanbul
Tuesday, February 28, 2012