Real Madrid: A new golden age

May 05, 2018 by Print
Real Madrid: A new golden age

Real Madrid is still the winningest club in the history of European basketball, with nine EuroLeague crowns. Eight of those titles were won in the last century and it wasn't until 2015 – exactly 20 years after their previous title – that Los Blancos went back on top. Now the team from the Spanish capital is living a second golden age as a perennial contender that has reached six of the last eight Final Fours.

One key ingredient in that success is head coach Pablo Laso, who had played with the club before and took over the bench in 2011-12. Since then, his version of joyful offensive basketball has seen Real Madrid climb to the highest heights in Europe. With a core of players that has remained loyal to the white jersey and a few tweaks each season, Coach Laso has been able to meet high standards year after year.

This season started with the worst news for Madrid: 2016-17 EuroLeague MVP Sergio Llull would miss most of the season due to a knee injury. That was no deterrent for Real Madrid, which started the campaign with four wins in as many games, powered by young superstar Luka Doncic, who was named MVP for October. Despite his young age, Doncic shined like a true leader on the court. However, a wave of injuries further weakened Madrid, which lost six of its next seven games.

Center Walter Tavares was signed to strengthen the depleted frontcourt, and by Round 12, Madrid was back on form. The team went on a seven-game winning streak that restored its accustomed place in the upper echelons of the standings. During that run, Madrid defeated big names like Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul and archrival FC Barcelona Lassa, among others. As key injured players like Anthony Randolph and Gustavo Ayon started to return, the team was back to its usual self by the time it clinched a playoff berth in Round 27. A three-game surge to finish the season gave Madrid a 19-11 record, which was tied for third-best in the league, although it finished in fifth place after a tiebreaker.

In the playoffs, Madrid encountered Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens, which easily won the first game in the Greek capital after opening with a 20-0 charge. Nobody was sure how Madrid would recover from a 28-point loss, its worst ever in the playoffs, but a resilient Game 2 win tied the series and gave the home-court advantage to Los Blancos. Game 3 was marked by the return of Llull after eight months sidelined and his comeback provided the spark that the team needed to win the next two games and punch its Final Four ticket.

Now, with its roster the healthiest it's been all season, Madrid is ready for anything. Llull adds another major weapon to an already-loaded squad, plus the team has shown mental toughness throughout the season and again after losing the playoff opener. When it comes to the Final Four, coaches tend to say that mentality is paramount. In that respect, Real Madrid reaches the biggest stage of all in fine form.