This is going to be my second Final Four and it was not easy to make it here. It has been a very competitive EuroLeague season, in which playing against all of the best teams in Europe has been really tough. Moreover, we had to beat a really tough team, Darussafaka, in the playoffs. They really made things hard for us and stole a win in Madrid, which made us doubt a lot. It was a problem, but we solved it in the best way possible and the team arrives to the Final Four in very good shape. I really expect a very competitive Final Four, especially after such a tough EuroLeague season. We played twice against all the teams and there were no easy games. We played in very difficult courts, but managed to reach our goals. It was difficult, a long season, with a lot of emotional stress and pressure, first to make it to the playoffs and then to get the home-court advantage. It was a very balanced competition, and you can tell that by looking at the standings, until the final round. I can say it was a very interesting EuroLeague season.
We will play against Fenerbahce in the EuroLeague semifinals, just like in the 2015 semifinals and the 2016 playoffs. When two teams as strong as Real Madrid and Fenerbahce play in the EuroLeague, it is logical that they will face each other in the higher stages of the competition, close to the final. Both teams are really good and it is not going to be an easy game for anyone. Fenerbahce has had a good project for a few years already and its hard work is paying off. Real Madrid has been doing things really well, too, and been a competitive team for many years. It will be a really tough semifinal and whoever wins will have very good chances to lift the trophy.
We hope to break the dynamics against Fenerbahce; we played in Madrid in the 2015 semifinals and won, but they had the home-court advantage in last season's playoffs and advanced to the Final Four. It will be complicated because Fenerbahce is a great team with great fans who give their team a lot of support. We play in Istanbul, so it is easy to believe that the gym will be full of Fenerbahce fans. It is what it is; we have to go there, play the best way that we can, compete and try to win.
These will be my last EuroLeague games, so it is a different Final Four for me. I had a great time in my first Final Four and even though this will be my last one, I always try to compete, help the team and make things right. My mindset is on what I need to do to help my team win. I hoped to have the chance to be here and try to compete, which is the most important thing: trying to win another EuroLeague title, which would be a great achievement for Real Madrid and for me, of course. The EuroLeague has been a very important competition in my career. It helped me mature and grow as a player, take steps forwards and eventually make it to the NBA. Every game, every moment in every league that I played has been an opportunity to improve during my career.
There are many keys to a game like this. There are a lot of factors in this game, not just basketball-related, but emotional, too. I believe that rebounding well is very important in this game, but also being able to calm down and control your emotions. We will be the road team in this game against a crowd mostly in Fenerbahce's favor. At the same time, Fenerbahce will also have a lot of pressure to win. So, I really think the emotional part of the game will be very important this time. Obviously, we have to get ready and look for their weaknesses and make the most out of our strengths, but it appears to me that handling your nerves and emotions on the court will be critical, and it will have a big impact on the final score.
CSKA and Olympiacos will play the other semifinal. I expect a very fun-to-watch game between two very powerful teams. Olympiacos and CSKA have very different playing styles. Two basketball brands will go against each other; CSKA is more run-and-gun and high-scoring compared to Olympiacos, who have a tougher defense and like low-scoring games. It will be great to play these two basketball styles in such an important game as the EuroLeague semifinal. It is good for the whole show, and I expect another big game between those teams. May the best one win!
I am sure you have heard the expression "one game at a time" before; people say it a lot. A Final Four game is something different, you have to go point by point, possession by possession. A bad minute can see you run out of chances in either the semifinal or the final. What really matters is to do the things right for 40 minutes and if you do, then do it again for another 40 minutes. We have to be really focused, really into it and be aware of everything around us.
Role players are important, too. Very important, I would say. The most relevant players in each team are also those who try to stop you on defense. You always prepare harder to stop the other team's best players and, obviously, those players are not always the decisive factor in a game. Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. All players are important, every piece in the puzzle. There will be players who will step on court for just one or two minutes and can play a very important role, even make the difference. Everyone is important, not just the star players. The role players will give a plus for the stars to take a quality jump. Everyone must feel part of this Final Four.
So, be sure we will give our best in Istanbul. If I play, I know it will be my last chance to play in a Final Four. In my case, I am in a different situation because this is my last season as a basketball player, so I am ready to give everything, to leave everything on the court and leave it knowing that I did everything I could do to help my team win.