The Final Four starts in a few days, but I will start with our playoffs win against Baskonia. We knew it would be a hard-fought series because we split regular season wins with them, played a tough one at their place and lost and another tough one at home to end the regular season. We knew it would not be much different in the playoffs. In Game 1 we played really well, got in front, kept a big lead and put them away. It looked easy, but it was a tough game and we knew Game 2 would be a different story. And, obviously, it was. Baskonia came out ready to go and took care of us pretty easily.
That stung us, it hit us pretty hard knowing that they stole a game at our place. We knew it was going to be a long trip to Spain and we wanted to come out with a sense of urgency. A lot of people thought that Game 2 wasn't supposed to happen, so we went to Vitoria and took care of business. It was a lot of adversity for us to face. It's been a long time since CSKA lost at home in the playoffs and for us to come back and win two in a row at their place really spoke to how tough this team is. How resilient we are, how focused we can be, and how we can get things done. It was good to see our team bounce back and pick up two important road wins.
"I am expecting the Final Four to be as tough as any game we played this season."
Hopefully it will play to our advantage that we have played in the Final Four arena a couple games leading up to the Final Four. I think that can help. Personally – and I think some other guys also feel this way, that is better than playing there just once or not playing there at all. We played in Fernando Buesa Arena three times this season, so hopefully, people can visualize things better when going through preparations and know what the atmosphere can be like, what the colors of the gym are like, what the rims are like.
I am expecting the Final Four to be as tough as any game we played this season. I am expecting every team there to be playing its best basketball, not only us but Real, Efes and Fenerbahce. With support for each team, everybody should be energized, taking in the atmosphere. It will ultimately come down to who can make shots, who can get stops defensively when it counts, rebound the ball and make their runs when it matters. We will be hoping it is us at the end of the day.
Having lots of Final Four experience, my teammates talk about how it is different; it is one game, there is no series to be played. It is all going to come down to that first game and at the Final Four that first game is what you need to mentally prepare for. They talk about it as if it is just a normal game, but at the end of the day, you have to know that it is just one chance to get to the championship and you got to leave it all out there. You got to be ready to sacrifice a lot to win the game.
Against Real I am expecting the same as the first two times that we played them, when it came down to the last quarter. We are expecting another battle and it should not be any different. They have a lot of talented players and we just need to be ready to face them, be ready to go up against their size in the paint and be ready to handle their shooters and scorers. We need to be able to win the rebounding battle; that's going to be important for us. We beat Real twice this year, but I don't think that matters much coming into Friday's game.
"I have seen and done more things than I ever thought I would do in my lifetime."
With a full EuroLeague season behind me, I can say this has been a whole new experience basketball-wise and off the court, as well. I have seen and done more things than I ever thought I would do in my lifetime and I had to adapt to a new place in the world. I am so fortunate to have the teammates that I have, not only from the United States, but the Russian guys here in Moscow who have helped all of us adapt and helped me learn a few things. It has been really eye-opening. This season as a whole has had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of not-so-good games, but also feel-good games. But at the end of the day, our team is winning, we finished the regular season second and put ourselves in a good position to win.
Luka Doncic, last season's EuroLeague MVP, said it is tougher to make shots in the EuroLeague than in the NBA and there is truth to that. Both leagues are very different for a lot of reasons. In the EuroLeague, the game is shorter, so there is going to be fewer possessions. The possessions are longer, the guys are not going to be necessarily taking shot after shot after shot, everything is well planned out. Also, every play seems to matter a lot more than in the NBA where you have a lot of up and down, a lot of transition. In the NBA, the paint and the court are more spaced out because there is the 3-seconds rule on defense, so guards and other players who are able to cut to the lane or to attack the rim sometimes find themselves wide-open because everything is so spread out. In the EuroLeague, playing in these games, I found everything a little more packed, when you drive there will be two or three guys showing up to help and there is going to be a big guy in the paint. There is a little less space out there on the court.
But, there are also a lot of similarities between the two leagues talent wise. The EuroLeague has some unbelievably talented players who could 100 percent make an impact in the NBA right now. These are the two best leagues in the world and that's why there is truth to Luka's comments, just in terms of game-play.