A few hours before the game, Nikola Mirotic posted a message on Twitter announcing that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was therefore unavailable to help his team, FC Barcelona, in its road game against Valencia Basket. Mirotic hit the game-winning shot in Valencia last season and has been leading Barcelona since he joined the team in 2019. He averaged 15.5 points on 78.6% two-point shooting and 7.0 rebounds in his team's first two EuroLeague games this season.
With Mirotic unavailable, Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius decided to start Rolands Smits at power forward. Smits had seen limited playing time in his previous two campaigns in Barcelona; he averaged less than 10 minutes in 16 EuroLeague games last season. Smits, however, won the 2016-17 7DAYS EuroCup Rising Star trophy playing for Baloncesto Fuenlabrada and was coming off a good effort in Barcelona's loss against Zenit St Petersburg with 7 points, 6 fouls drawn and a performance index rating of 11 in 13 minutes.
"He is clearly missing experience and rhythm after not playing much in the last two years, but this was his opportunity and he took it," Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius said after the game. "No one deserves more such a great game than Rolands. He is practicing like few other players I have seen in my life."
Indeed, Smits lived up to the expectations and surprised Valencia with a career-best performance. He already reached double digits in points in the first quarter as he helped keep Barcelona within 19-16 after 10 minutes. Despite being held scoreless in the final quarter, Smits finished the game with a personal-best 15 points on perfect shooting: 3 for 3 inside the arc and 3 for 3 from downtown. He added 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 2 fouls drawn for a PIR of 23, also a new career-high. Those are the kind of numbers that Mirotic can post any given night and almost identical to his performance in Round 2 against Zenit (14 points, 7 rebounds and a PIR of 22).
"In the second half we started to play tougher, harder defense, and finally we won," Smits said right after the game. "I need to be ready every time, and take my chance."
There was more good news for Barcelona. Sergi Martinez made his EuroLeague debut and played 2 minutes and 37 seconds off the bench. Kyle Kuric returned to the team and also saw playing time: 5 minutes and 14 seconds. Barcelona did not need to be physical to get the victory; it went to the foul line for the first time with 4:25 left in the game. Its two-point shooting percentage (65.7%) was the second-best so far in a EuroLeague game this season; FC Bayern Munich hit 68.4% of its shots inside the arc against ALBA Berlin on last week.
Barcelona will now try to finish the first two-round week of the season undefeated when it faces Panathinaikos OPAP Athens on Thursday.