On Tuesday, Real Madrid became the first team to make it to the 2019 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four. It was another great achievement for Los Blancos, who reached the Final Four for the 10th time since the format was adopted in 1988. Six of those appearances have come in the last seven years, all of them with Coach Pablo Laso on the bench.
Madrid managed to sweep difficult Panathinaikos OPAP Athens without starting point guard Sergio Llull. Several players stepped up big during the series; Facu Campazzo was rock-solid in all three games, Jeffery Taylor was the team's X-factor and in the critical moments of the decisive game, Gustavo Ayon made the difference.
The game had been balanced for the best part of the opening 35 minutes. Free throws by Matt Lojeski gave Panathinaikos the lead, 68-66, with 5:34 left. Campazzo was looking for a teammate to hook up with and Ayon took over with it mattered most. First, Ayon picked up an electric bounce pass and threw it down. Campazzo and Ayon quickly did it again; the Madrid big man found space for a backdoor cut and got the ball from the Argentinean point guard to score again. On Madrid's next offense, Campazzo drove and spotted Ayon while jumping - sending him a tough pass that turned into a third consecutive basket. Once Panathinaikos started to double-team Ayon, Madrid's three-point shooters – Taylor, Randolph, assisted by Ayon, and Campazzo – were ready to seal the outcome of the game and series.
When the dust settled, Ayon needed just 19 minutes to score 12 points, grab 6 rebounds, dish 4 assists and finish the game with a performance index rating of 17. He was one of five Madrid scorers in double digits, a balanced effort that allowed Madrid to prevail. In five years with Madrid, Ayon is in his fourth Final Four and looks for his third EuroLeague title.
Potential Final Four contenders should be worried about the fact that literally any of Madrid's rotation players can step up and make the difference. Taylor averaged 5 points and an index rating of 4.4 in regular season action. In the playoffs against Panathinaikos, Taylor was the only Madrid player to score in double digits in all three games, averaging 12.3 points on stellar shooting percentages (72.7% 2FG, 58.3% 3FG) and an index rating of 12. Madrid looks deeper - and therefore - more dangerous than ever.