We are in the playoffs! We had a lot of ups and downs during the season, but really persevered and played well through injuries and many different things. We finished the regular season with 15 wins and 15 losses and that was good enough to take us to the playoffs. Now we have to focus on our series knowing that if we win it, we will go to the Final Four. We need to focus on CSKA and give our best energy, our best performance of the season. If you think about it, we are five wins from lifting the EuroLeague trophy. Of course, there are eight teams in the same situation and you cannot count anyone out. If you look at all the series, they all have interesting matchups at every spot. We have to think with the right mindset. We have to take one game at a time. The most important thing for us is that if we beat CSKA, we will play the Final Four on our home court.
We have Toko Shengelia back and that is big news for us. Having Toko on the floor obviously changes a lot of things. It changes the way teams defend us and the way we can play. Toko was an All-EuroLeague selection last year and was playing great this season until he got injured. Obviously, he demands a lot of respect and we are a better team with him out there. He has worked really hard to come back and is ready to help everybody and help the team reach its goals.
"Our first goal is accomplished and now we need to move on."
Our guys played through a lot of stuff this season. We had a lot of injuries, different guys went down during the year. Everybody can pick up the slack, so to speak, at different positions. Everybody filled in and everybody had their night at some point during the year to help the team get a win. Everybody stepped their game up and performed at a level that allowed us to reach the playoffs. That was our first goal from the start of the season and if you want to win the EuroLeague, you have to reach the playoffs. Our first goal is accomplished and now we need to move on.
CSKA is always a tough opponent, especially in the playoffs. I don't even know how many years in a row they have been to the Final Four. They have a great playoff record and we are aware that we are facing a tough opponent – and even tougher in Moscow where they don't lose too many games in general and playoff games in particular. We have a tough task, but we know it. We will give everything we have to try to win one or two games. We need to win our home games and if we do, we will have three opportunities to win in Moscow and advance to the Final Four. The key is to try to steal one of the first two, if not both, and go back home to win in front of our fans. So, if we win our home games, we will give ourselves a very good chance to move on and reach the Final Four.
Before anything, we have to play Game 1 with good energy and be very physical, play exactly how the coaches tell us in the game plan. If we win, great and if we don't, we have to make adjustments and find out what we need to do in the rest of the series. We need to focus on Game 1 and try to get that one. Game 1 is always very important, especially as the road team. If you are able to win it, you give yourself a huge advantage and the extra confidence can be really good for the team. Obviously, teams kind of know what the other team is going to do after scouting throughout the season. You can add a few twists and a couple of new things before the series starts. We need to be ready and prepared.
It is great to see one of my former teams, Anadolu Efes, in the playoffs. You can look at their record and think it is a huge surprise just based on the fact that they didn't win so many games last season, but Efes is a club that has always tries its best, signs good players and puts together very nice rosters every year. They were finally able to get the right group of guys, the right mix, and put something together. There were times in which they looked like a Final Four team and others when they look like a normal playoffs team. They were great this season and now they have a chance to play against Barcelona with the home-court advantage to go to the Final Four. That is huge for them.
This may be the best EuroLeague Playoffs I remember. Anybody can beat anyone. If you look at years past, you definitely had favorites or the top four teams are the favorites. This year, I would say that the best four teams are the favorites again, but if you look at the four road teams, Zalgiris won six games in a row to make it to the playoffs, we are playing well and have Toko back; we have reasons to believe! If you look at Panathinaikos, it is one of the teams playing the best basketball right now and won a bunch of games towards the end of the season. And then Barcelona turned it around since last season and is playing well. All four teams have a big chance to surprise and will try to do their best to get to the Final Four.
"You can tell that the city has started to get excited."
There is already a good atmosphere in Vitoria. You can tell that the city has started to get excited; there are Final Four banners everywhere and signs, advertisements and everything all over the city center. The atmosphere is changing. People are starting to feel that the Final Four is getting closer. All you have to do is walk around. Us, the players, are excited to try to reach the Final Four and that will give us an extra boost.