First of all, I have to say that the regular season was exciting. Really, really exciting. With so many games, it was quick, too. And it was fun! We played against all the teams so there are no secrets; everyone knows each other and what they can do. You can see that almost until the last second, we did not know which would be the eight teams that would make it to the playoffs. This is what the EuroLeague wanted - and what the fans wanted... and what we wanted! This was just the first year and the competition will be much more exciting in the future. It was a bit weird for everyone to play against everybody, because it was a new thing and we travelled a lot, especially in two-game weeks. It was fun and we are now moving on to the most important part: the playoffs!
As for Baskonia, I feel that we were not as good at home as we were last season. A year ago, we thought there was just no way anyone could beat us at home. This year, we struggled more at home. I feel like sometimes we played better on the road than at home. I don't know the stats, but we had better percentages on the road than at home. It’s been a long season and we had some ups and downs. We had some really good games and some bad ones, but if our defense is there, it is really, really hard to beat us. I really think - and we have proved this – that we can beat any team anywhere. It is not about the home-court advantage; if we play well, we can win anywhere. For example, we won against Fenerbahce on the road, and maybe if we didn't get that one, we wouldn't be in the playoffs! When it counted, we held it together, played as a team and got big wins. I am proud of my team and now that we have to play against a tough team like CSKA, maybe the toughest and most talented, the reigning EuroLeague champion, we have to give our best. We beat them in Vitoria and lost really easy on the road. I am curious to see how the series will turn out.
I will have to guard Nando De Colo, which is always exciting. When we played at home, I guarded him most of the game. He is one of the best players in the EuroLeague – maybe the best! It is really hard to guard him because he has so many ways to score. I will try to do my best. We have to stop him with good team defense. I think it is the only way. CSKA plays a lot of pick-and-roll, so it all depends on team defense and the help Chase Budinger and I can get from our big men. If we want to beat them, we have to do a good defensive job on De Colo and Milos Teodosic. If we cannot prevent them from being comfortable, then it will be tough for us to win. We have to make them uncomfortable. Of course, they have so many other good perimeter players: Cory Higgins, Nikita Kurbanov, Victor Khryapa, Vitaly Fridzon and so many more. It is never easy against CSKA, they have 12 great players who can score. It is really hard at this level to say that if you stop two guys, you will win the game. Just last weekend, a friend of mine told me that if we stopped Sergio Llull, we would beat Real Madrid, and then Luka Doncic killed us. Every team at this level has players who can do really well.
There is a rivalry between CSKA and Baskonia and that makes our series even more exciting. As soon as we knew CSKA would be our opponent, I received a lot of messages and videos about things that happened between the teams, especially in the recent past. I don’t think that any Baskonia player was on the team when we last were in the playoffs against CSKA, except maybe Ilimane Diop. We are a different team and this is a new chapter, a new year. We want to write our own story. Hopefully, we will prepare well and it will be very important to play well in both games in Moscow. We have to compete and see what happens. I wouldn't mind having a bad game in Moscow if we win the other one and go back to Vitoria 1-1! :)
I expect some surprises in the playoffs. The playoffs series will be balanced even though having the home-court advantage is a big thing. Everybody was fighting for that goal from the beginning of the season, so those four teams are in a better situation. I believe around 85% of the teams that have the home-court advantage advance to the Final Four, so it is a big thing, but I am sure they will be surprised and I hope we will be one of them! We know we have to play at least one game in Buesa Arena and the first thing we have to do is make sure we play twice at home. We have to take one game at a time before thinking about the next one. We cannot think about anything but Game 1 right now.
Some of us have been to the Final Four and swept a playoffs series against Panathinaikos last season. I got hurt in Game 1; I was healthy the whole season, but pulled a muscle in the playoffs! It really hurt to be sidelined in those games! It was horrible, especially the game in Athens! I was so excited, jumping around the bench, but not able to help my team! It was a horrible feeling, one of the worst! At the same time, it was amazing just to realize we were going to make it to the Final Four. I didn't believe it until the final second of that series! It was a really good experience and we were really prepared. We know we have to play tough, more physical than ever and just focus on CSKA. Our club postponed our Spanish League game this weekend to do so. We will be fully focused on the EuroLeague from the start of the series, and I hope we are just as prepared for CSKA as we were against Panathinaikos last season – or even more! Goazen Baskonia!!!