It took Real Madrid 20 years to claim back the Euroleague title, but the club made sure it was one to remember by lifting the trophy at home after two very good games at Barclaycard Center. Madrid won the final by the second-largest margin ever in a single-game final – bested only by Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv in 2004, also at home, but even though Los Blancos made it look easy, it wasn't easy at all.
Laso keeps smiling
Most Madrid fans were shocked when the club chose Pablo Laso as its new basketball head coach. Laso had little experience as a coach, with stops in Valencia – where he did not finish the 2004-05 season – Cantabria and San Sebastian. His experience as an elite point guard – Laso is still is the Spanish League's all-time assists and steals leader – suggested he could be a top coach in the future. It was a calculated gamble, similar to what Madrid did with Joan Plaza some years ago; bringing in the coach they believed in, regardless of not being a big name. Laso has lifted at least one trophy with Madrid every season since his arrival in 2011. He has been to 12 of a maximum 15 finals with Los Blancos and reached three consecutive Turkish Airlines Euroleague title games. Winning the Euroleague is the icing on the cake, of course, but Laso gives more value by leading Madrid to challenge for every title, every year, just as it used to years ago. Most importantly, Laso not only brought Madrid back to its glory days, but was loyal to its trademark style - defense, rebounds and points in transition. Often overlooked as a defensive team, Madrid only allowed 63 points in its clinching game in the playoffs against Anadolu Efes Istanbul and 59 in the final against Olympiacos.
I was shocked to discover that Andres Nocioni and Facu Campazzo were the first Argentineans to lift the Euroleague trophy in more than a decade, precisely since 2002, when Pepe Sanchez helped Panathinaikos Athens go all the way. Before him, Manu Ginobili and Hugo Sconochini won the 2001 Euroleague with Kinder Bologna. Indeed, Argentinean players have given much to Euroleague teams for many years. Luis Scola was the first Euroleague player to reach the 2,000-point mark and made it to the title game in 2005 with Tau Ceramica, a team that also included two other Argentineans, Pablo Prigioni and Roberto Gabini. Marcelo Nicola, who opened the European way for many countrymen in the late 1980s, reached a Euroleague final with Benetton Treviso in 2003. Prigioni made it to five Final Fours with Baskonia and Madrid with no success. Fabricio Oberto, Ale Montecchia and Fede Kammerichs were Eurocup champions with Pamesa Valencia in 2003, while Carlos Delfino and Walter Herrmann, among others, also saw Final Four action. It was Nocioni was crowned as the 2015 Final Four MVP as he finally won the Euroleague title for dozens of Argentinean players who gave solid contributions to European club basketball. And at age 36, he celebrated it more than any other Final Four MVP I can think of. Kudos Chapu!
Peaking at the right time
It was November 13, 2013, almost two years ago, when Madrid hosted Anadolu Efes Istanbul. Late in the game, Sergio Rodriguez is fouled by Zoran Planinic, but sends an alley-oop pass from beyond midcourt to Marcus Slaughter, whose dunk will not count due to that previous foul. Madrid fans complained about it for a few seconds, while Rodriguez hit both free throws, Madrid got a defensive stop and el Chacho connected again with Slaughter for a brutal alley-oop slam. It was perhaps Madrid's best moment from last season - a 103-57 home win against Efes that caused people wonder if Los Blancos could be stopped. In the end, Madrid peaked too early and ended up winning one of three major titles - the Copa del Rey, on a last-second shot by Sergio Llull. Before, during and after the Final Four, you could hear players at the club talking openly about that - playing their best basketball at the right time. With five new players and a FIBA Basketball World Cup that took away from preseason preparation, the approach was different and completely successful. Madrid was at its best in the Final Four, when it mattered most, and its great numbers in the semifinals against Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul - 18 assists, 0 turnovers at halftime - proved that.
It may not have looked like a dream season for Madrid early on, but the team was ready to deliver at the right time. Congratulations to Real Madrid and its great fans, the wait was definitely worth it!