We just finished the regular season, the first in the new era of the EuroLeague. It was a lot of fun for fans and a better competition with a lot of important games and a great playing level. For the players, it is tougher and more physically demanding because you have to combine it with your domestic league. Physically and mentally, the EuroLeague regular season has been very, very tough, but for fans, media and TV, it is the best because there is always a highlight, at least one big, important game in every round. So, there are different points of view. The weeks with two games were really tough, especially when we played in the Spanish League on the road the following Sunday. We had to travel more and had some complicated trips, which can be more stressful for players then it was before, physically and mentally. But the fans and people following the EuroLeague loved it; you just need to look at the arenas this season. They were full of people, more than ever.
We will face Darussafaka in the playoffs. They won a do-or-die game against Crvena Zvezda in Round 30 to go through. That game was played before our last game against Efes, so we tried to keep an eye on it to find out about our next opponent. We were first at the end of the regular season, so which opponent came next was not as important as feeling the responsibility of being the number one team at the end of this round. No matter who we played, we would have to fight against them and try to beat them. Being the top-ranked team comes with responsibility, that is the truth, in such a competitive competition as the EuroLeague. Now we have to play against a really talented team like Darussafaka, with a great coach. They beat us in Istanbul this season. We did not find the right rhythm in that game and they ended up beating us easily. We were without Sergio Llull, which is always a handicap for us, because we are talking about, in my opinion, the MVP of the competition.
It will be good to see our old teammate Marcus Slaughter, who should be back for the playoffs. He was an important player for us and we don't like to play against him because we know the way he plays, defends and how valuable he is for a team. He is a mobile player with great timing, who can be like a giant inside the paint, especially on defense. It is great to play against him, but he is a tough opponent and we know that.
We hope to make the most out of the home-court advantage. This is my third year with Real Madrid and we have always played against Istanbul-based teams in the playoffs. We beat Efes in 2015, lost against Fenerbahce in 2016 and now we will face Darussafaka. The home-court advantage was critical in those series. We won both home games in 2015 and managed to get Game 4 in Istanbul, a very tough one. Last season, we had a hard time against Fenerbahce because it was really strong at home and beat us twice in their place. All these teams are tough, have really talented players and a lot of resources. We expected our playoffs series to be a great show, but first and foremost, we hope to win the series, of course. I love the playoff atmosphere; it is a whole different story anywhere in the world: NBA, Europe, Argentina, anywhere. People love playoffs because these are more physical, more intense games. It is something great not only for fans, but also for players. Every player loves critical games. It is going to be a great show and I hope we get the win and go to the Final Four.
Earlier this month, I announced that I will retire at the end of the season. I would like to thank a lot of people for the way they reacted after my announcement. Honestly, it was more than I expected. I wanted to make the announcement the way I did, at a press conference, but I didn't expect people to react the way they did. A lot of people have shown their appreciation. People pushed me to do something bigger and more interesting, which was having that press conference at Santiago Bernabeu stadium. I will be forever thankful to Real Madrid for allowing me to do this as it was so big. I have to thank all the fans from all the teams I played. I cannot only limit it to Madrid fans, who have been great to me, but I felt appreciation and received great messages from all the clubs that I played for, as well as from former teammates. It was a great feeling; you reap what you sow, so I feel very proud, knowing that I did well. Opponents and clubs that I never played for also sent messages, which was interesting because I didn't expect those reactions. I know I did things right and didn't have an ordinary career, but still, it was a surprise. I even got messages from people I didn't expect to feel that way for me. It was surprising and great.
I have been talking to Pablo Prigioni a lot these days. He was one of the first ones to know my decision. He respected it the way I respected his decision. Things like this have to happen. Regretfully, it is what it is. We have been linked to basketball for many years, practicing, playing, competing, asking ourselves to give our very best, physically and mentally... It is not easy to do all this for a long time and I took the decision because it was the right time to do it, to step out and help basketball in a different way from now on, from a different point of view, which is also important.
I am still an active player fighting for two titles and that is what I am focused on. Announcing it now helps me finish the season in the best way possible. I know I have two months ahead of me and I want to enjoy everything about it. I hope to have a good time and get the results we want to get. It is not easy; everyone knows that the EuroLeague and the Spanish League are two very tough competitions, but I hope I can finish the year the right way. It would be a spectacular way to say goodbye, unforgettable!