On a night when reigning EuroLeague Best Defender Walter Tavares set a career-high in performance index rating, the story of Real Madrid's 93-97 double-overtime road win at Panathinaikos OPAP Athens was the performance of the only first-year player on Los Blancos' roster. Alberto Abalde took charge in the two overtime periods to carry Real to the victory.
The 2.02-meter forward honed his playmaking skills with his former club, Valencia Basket, when that team was plagued by injuries in past seasons. All of that training could be seen as Abalde dissected the Panathinaikos defense time and again with the game on the line.
Abalde started well with 4 points in the first quarter, but did not score again until the end of regulation. In fact, he did not feature in the fourth quarter until Coach Pablo Laso inserted him for defense with 14 seconds left. Abalde would not leave the court again.
"He's a great basketball player. I don't know if he's a point guard, a 'two', a 'three'. Probably the best thing about him is that he can play almost every position. So that speaks very well about him," Coach Laso said after the game. "I think we were, let's say, a little bit tired. And the way [Panathinaikos] plays defense, we found that Alberto could get good looks, not only to score, but also to create for somebody else. And defensively, he was pretty solid. Knowing that we had foul problems on some players, we were able to play solid with him with the ball. Happy for him, for sure, and happy for us to have a player like Alberto with us."
Real fell behind by 5 early in the first overtime period before Abalde stepped up. He made a free throw, fed Trey Thompkins for a three-pointer and drew a foul while sinking a jumper in the lane. He made the resulting free throw for a 75-77 Real Madrid, but Nemanja Nedovic matched him with free throws at the other end. Once again, Abalde came through with a ridiculous finish for a go-ahead layup with 20 seconds left in the period, but Panathinaikos answered and the game went to a second overtime.
Abalde fed Tavares for Real's first basket of the period and then sank a go-ahead three to make it 82-85. With Panathinaikos close on Real's tail, Abalde kept his side in front with more free throws and a feed to Thompkins for an 85-89 edge. With the game in the balance, he drained the clock and hit a short jumper for an 88-93 lead with 18.6 to go and then iced the victory from the line.
"I am very happy, this is the best birthday present I could have: a win here," Abalde said. "I tried to contribute what was right, just like the rest of my teammates. They proposed different types of defenses and collapsed our offense a little bit in the third quarter with a zone defense. Some players came off the bench and it was all about finding the best option. I am happy, personally, for being able to help in the final minutes."
Abalde's final line was 19 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists in compiling a career-high performance index rating of 24. He tallied 15 points and 3 assists in the last two overtime periods alone – and his team needed all of them.
On a Real Madrid squad that dressed eight former EuroLeague champions for the game, Abalde was its steadiest player down the stretch and proved to all that he is an elite talent who opponents must prepare harder for the rest of the way.