|For the second consecutive year, All-Euroleague center Ante Tomic of FC Barcelona has been Euroleague Basketball's choice as bwin MVP for February. In the first five games of the Top 16, Tomic averaged just 5.6 points, but everything changed in February. In three games, he pumped in 22 points per game on incredible 74% two-point shooting, twice raising his Euroleague career highs in both points and performance index rating. Tomic also posted the Euroleague's first 25-point, 15-rebound performance in a Top 16 game since the great Arvydas Sabonis of Zalgiris Kaunas did the same 10 years ago this week. Tomic's outsize performances helped Barcelona remain the Top 16's sole unbeaten team and give itself mathematical chances to qualify for the playoffs as soon as this week, when it hosts Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul in the Game of the Week. Despite his great overall performance in February, Tomic is fully aware that the most important games are yet to be played and that Barcelona needs to go step by step, as he said in this Euroleague.net interview. "First, there is the end of the Top 16, which we have to finish in a good way, trying to be first in our group. Then there is the playoffs, which will be a long series no matter who we face," Tomic told Euroleague.net. "It is too early to talk about the Final Four."
Hello Ante, congratulations on becoming the bwin MVP for February for a second year in a row. What do you like so much about this month?
"Well, February is always special for me because it is my birthday. Not only because of that, but it is also a very important part of the season and I know I have to give my best in crucial games. This award means a lot to me because I know I helped my team get really close to the playoffs."
You averaged 5.6 points in the first five Top 16 games. Then you improved to 22 points per game and beat your Euroleague scoring record twice. What changed to make that happen in February?
"Nothing much, really. I tried to play my game and that's it. Something different happens in every game. In this case, I scored a lot but it was product of our game, of the way we play. I am really trying to help the team in many other ways than just scoring."
Barcelona has a 20-game Top 16 winning streak despite being in one of the toughest groups ever this season. What is required for a team to raise its level the way Barca has at this time of the season for the last two years?
"First of all, we need to have good connection in our game, which we do. That's the first objective. We had a really great start of the Top 16 because we won three very important games on the road. That allowed us to keep playing well. We hope we can continue like this and finish first in our group, because if we do, we will have better options to go to the Final Four."
You started February with a home win against EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, right after a tough loss in the Copa del Rey final. Barcelona used a great fourth quarter to win. How difficult was to focus and win that game?
"It is always difficult to play the next game after losing a final, a title game. We told ourselves that the season was not over yet and that we have a lot of work to do. We prepared a good game, played well and won it. That's it."
Barcelona went on to beat Laboral Kutxa on the road. You had an incredible game in front of Tibor Pleiss, one of the best defensive big men in the competition. Did you have any special game plan against him?
"Well, we had a game plan on how to stop him - his points and rebounds! Playing against him on offense... I just tried to play my game. We are preparing game by game but in this game, we didn't prepare anything special against him. We ran our plays and tried to score easy points. I found myself in a good situation during the game."
Against Anadolu Efes in Istanbul, you became the first player since Arvydas Sabonis 10 years ago to get at least 25 points and 15 rebounds in a Top 16 game. What was the key for you to have a career-best performance like that?
"First of all, I heard about that just today. It is an honor to be in the same sentence with Arvydas Sabonis. I don't even know what to say about it - it is something amazing. It was the club's 300th game in the Euroleague and that motivated us to play better. We all wanted to win that game because it was a special one in the history of his club. I felt really good from the first minute and tried to score and rebound as I always do. I didn't think anything special before the game, like 'I am going to score 30 today'. Not really. I tried to help my team in the best way possible."
Barcelona trailed in that game by 7 points with 3 minutes left, but never gave up. How important is to build that winning mentality, being able to never give up?
"That's very important. Of course, I have to say we had a little bit of luck in that game - but you need luck to win trophies and important games. It was a very important win. Winning those games in the last second builds your confidence and improves your team mentality."
Barcelona is 8-0 in Group F, three wins ahead everyone else. It is a big gap and there is the risk to relax a bit once you clinch a playoffs spot. Have you already thought about that and how to avoid it?
"Well, that is the only word that does not exist in Barcelona - relax! Every game is important. Last season, we also had a big advantage against other teams but kept playing and had a very good Top 16. We are trying to do the same this season."
You seem to be very comfortable playing alongside Erazem Lorbek and Bostjan Nachbar, who can open the floor and give you more space to play in the low post. How much do you like playing with them?
"Those guys are different players: Lorbek is more of an inside player and Boki played small forward for a long time, so he plays mostly outside. That is great for our team. I like to play with both of them. We also hang out off the court. We speak the same language, also Marko Todorovic, and spend time together."
You look really confident, unstoppable at times. Do you think that you are playing some of the best basketball in your career these days?
"Yes, it is possible. After the games I had this month and the numbers I had in the Euroleague, you say I am playing some of the best basketball of my life."
At this point, winning all its home games would lead Barcelona to the Final Four. What can we expect from Barcelona in the final stages of this Euroleague season?
"I think it is too early to talk or even think about the Final Four. We have a lot of games ahead of us. First, there is the end of the Top 16, which we have to finish in a good way, trying to be first in our group. Then there is the playoffs, which will be a long series no matter who we face. Like I said, it is too early to talk about the Final Four."