We needed a win right away after losing against Brose Bamberg at home, and this is what we did against Maccabi. I believe the game we played against Bamberg was one of our worst this season, along with Zalgiris at home. We were aware that Maccabi did not have great chances to advance, but came here to make things hard for us. We are fighting with Darussafaka and Zalgiris for a playoffs spot and David Blatt, now with Darussafaka, used to coach Maccabi, so I am sure they wanted to help him, too. We played much better in the second half and that allowed us to win the game, getting out of a critical situation after a bad first half.
I had a good game, but most important, the team won. I was really looking forward to playing this game but things did not go well in the first half. Things got much better for me in the third quarter, as well as for the team. We missed all our three-point shots in the first half but that also improved a lot in the third quarter - and as with every team, when shots go in, you have a better motivation on defense, too. We have to make the most out of our good moments in the game, and we are lucky to have a team with very unselfish players. If someone is on fire, we look for him. It was me this time, but who knows who could be on fire in the next game?
I had stomach problems before the game and still don't know how I played so well! It has always been this way for me - every time I am in pain, I tend to forget about it when I am on the court. I only get to struggle once the game is over! Once you step on court, you forget about your physical problems or whatever it is wrong with you and try to help your team. I am the kind of player that doesn't like to miss any game.
We have been able to become a much more consistent team in the last couple of months, especially on defense. If we control the defensive board, we are able to play our game - run the floor and get easy baskets. Every time we have problems boxing out, the game is more complicated. We all took a step forward and the team is fully aware that we have good chances to make it to the playoffs. We want to be up there. Alex Kirk has surprised us a lot - he always tries to give something good to the team, no matter how much time he spends on court. He is a great backup for Bryant Dunston, who has been playing a lot of minutes in both competitions. We needed Bryant to take a rest, even though he is having a great season. He is one of my favourite players - I always liked to play against him and having him as a teammate is even better. He works hard, is positive, helps everyone and is contributing for us in every aspect of the game.
We have a tough calendar ahead of us, starting with a critical game against Zalgiris in Kaunas. We have been looking forward to this game for a long time because, like I said, we had a very bad game against them in Istanbul, on both ends of the floor. It is a very important game for them, too, as Zalgiris is also in the playoffs race. They are playing really well, especially at home, but we will go there ready to fight, looking for a road win that would bring us closer to our goal. Lithuania is a pure basketball country and all of them, three million people, love basketball and prove it in every situation. Zalgirio Arena is a great arena, too, and I love playing there, in front of such great fans, even when it is never easy.
After that game, we will play against Fenerbahce and Olympiacos at home, finishing the Regular Season with a road game against Real Madrid. Above all, we have to be strong at home and take one game at a time. We play against top-class opponents but all we have in our minds right now is the game against Zalgiris. Both Fenerbahce and Olympiacos are playing really well lately. Olympiacos was without Spanoulis for a while but kept winning anyway because some of its players took a step forwards. We count on our fans to make the difference in our two home games.
I love Istanbul. People are really friendly and are always willing to help. At the same time, we play for a club in which everything is taken care of. They do everything they can to make you feel like you are part of a big family. The city is awesome and we have the luck to do a lot of things together in the little free time that we all have. It has been really freezing these days but everything else is great. There are always a lot of things going on around the team - just the other day, some EuroLeague employees came to shoot a documentary for The Insider series about basketball in Istanbul. They came to Abdi Ipekci to talk to Coach Perasovic and Cedi Osman. I hope it will be a good one - I loved the one about Vassilis Spanoulis. Everyone in the locker room liked it. Personally, I didn't know much about him off the court and finding out about him was great. I loved the fact that he spends a lot of time with his family, as well as his work ethic. Everyone know he is a winner, but you need the work ethic to reach that level.
Back to this week. I think defense will be the key against Zalgiris, for both teams. They are a good defensive team, but at the same time, we need to rebound the ball well to run the floor. They are an all-around team, with young, talented players. We are working hard to have a completely different game this time around. We have to be able to make the most of our physical skills to control the boards and play our game.
Catch you all soon!