Real Madrid: Looking for new challenges

May 04, 2019 by Print
Real Madrid: Looking for new challenges

Real Madrid, the winningest club in the history of European basketball, reached another milestone last season by becoming the first team to win 10 EuroLeague crowns. Now, in the middle of another golden age, Real has a new challenge: to successfully defend the continental crown for the first time since 1968.

Maintaining a core of players and staff who work well together has been critical for Real. Head coach Pablo Laso is in his eighth season running the team. Felipe Reyes, Sergio Llull, and Jaycee Carroll have been there since he arrived, Rudy Fernandez re-joined the team a year later, and Gustavo Ayon signed in 2014. All of them, plus Facundo Campazzo, won the EuroLeague title with Real in both 2015 and 2018.

Despite some key departures, Real brought in just two players for this season, guard Klemen Prepelic and forward Gabriel Deck. The players' familiarity with each other paid off as Los Blancos won their first eight games by an average margin of 15.5 points. That record and center Walter Tavares's towering presence led to him being chosen as the EuroLeague MVP for October. Tavares went on to lead all players in the regular season with 1.7 blocked shots per game and a 78.2% two-point shooting accuracy.

Real was among the regular season leaders from start to finish, losing consecutive games only once and booking its place in the playoffs with a home win against FC Bayern Munich in Round 23. Real, however, did not win more than three consecutive games in the second half of the regular season and suffered five losses across 12 rounds. Nonetheless, Real locked up home-court advantage in the playoffs and placed third overall with a 22-8 record. Real ranked first after the regular season in defensive rebounds and assists, then did the same in the playoffs. Indeed, the closer to the Final Four, the more competitive Real became, also leading playoff teams with 59.1% two-point shooting accuracy.

In those playoffs, Real faced red-hot Panathinaikos OPAP Athens for the second consecutive season. Llull was injured, but Campazzo stepped up with 12.3 points, 8.3 assists and a performance index rating of 24.3 per game to lead Real to a 3-0 sweep. Jeffery Taylor, Anthony Randolph, Fernandez and Ayon were Real's main pillars against Panathinaikos. A last-minute comeback in Game 1 led to a convincing win in Game 2 to reach Athens with a 2-0 lead in the series. Ayon and Campazzo took over late in Game 3, allowing Real to punch its Final Four ticket before anyone else.

Just as last season, Real is fully healthy and ready to give its best at Fernando Buesa Arena. It has the complete package: depth, talent, experience and a lot of size, particularly in the paint, where the 2.11-meter Randolph and 2.21-meter Tavares play together on a regular basis. Real returns to the Final Four with 13 players and the same coaching staff that won the EuroLeague last season. They all know what it takes to win the title.

Road to Vitoria-Gasteiz

1. Real Madrid started its title defense in Round 1 with a 109-93 win over defending EuroCup champion Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul. Anthony Randolph had his first of many great performances this season with 16 points.

2. En route to an 8-0 start, Los Blancos claimed a 79-90 road win at eventual playoff contestant Zalgiris Kaunas in Round 5 with big man Gustavo Ayon earning MVP of the Round honors.

3. In Round 12, Real Madrid made a statement in El Clasico with a record-setting 92-65 home win over FC Barcelona Lassa. Trey Thompkins led the winners with 17 points.

4. Rebounding king Felipe Reyes made history during a Round 27 victory over AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. Reyes became the EuroLeague's all-time leader in games played with his 342nd career appearance.

5. Real became the only team this season to sweep a playoffs series with an 82-89 victory over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in Game 3 in the Greek capital. Rudy Fernandez and Facundo Campazzo starred with 16 points apiece.