Final Four numbers: Barca's defensive boost

May 25, 2021 by by Darius Garuolis Print
Final Four numbers: Barca's defensive boost

One of the biggest clichés in basketball is that offense wins games but defense wins titles. However, that hasn't always been the case in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Indeed, in the last five Final Fours, the highest-scoring team in the event won the title four times. FC Barcelona wants to prove something different: that an improved defense leads to better results.

Defense, and how it improved from one year to the next, allowed Barcelona to finish the regular season in first place and reach the club's first Final Four since 2014.

Barca has allowed the fewest points per game, 72.8, of any EuroLeague defense this season. It also holds opponents to the fewest points per possession (0.911), with Anadolu Efes Istanbul ranking second (0.954)

Its focus and intensity have allowed Barca to lead several defensive categories by wide margins. Barca holds opponents to both the lowest field goal (43.7%) and adjusted field goal (50.0%) accuracies. By comparison, FC Bayern Munich is the next-best team in both categories, at 46.1% and 53.0%, respectively, which shows how strong Barca's defense has been all season long.

Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius's team give up a point or more on just 41.3% of their defensive possessions, and the results are clear. Barcelona is 2-6 in this EuroLeague season when allowing 80 points or more, and 10-1 when holding rivals to less than 70 points.

Barcelona grafic 1

Barcelona leads the EuroLeague in a couple of key defensive categories, is the best of all Final Four squads in some others, and has shown great progress from last season to this one.

Last season, Barca let opponents get 16.9 assists and 32.7 rebounds while hitting 52.3% of their shots inside the arc and 36.5% from three-point range, only good enough to rank seventh in points-against defense (78.3 ppg. allowed) in the regular season when the competition was stopped.

Barca has improved all of those numbers in the 2020-21 campaign, holding rivals to 15.8 assists and 30.7 rebounds while forcing them to make just 49.5% of their shots inside the arc and 34.1% from three-point range. Simply put, all those numbers are better than last season, which led to Barca having the top-ranked points-against defense (73.2), as well as the best two- and three-point defense, percentage-wise.

Going to Cologne, Barca leads all Final Four teams in assists and rebounds allowed, as well as in turnovers forced (13.8). Defense was big for Barca in the playoffs, when it gave up just 70.2 points per game and forcing Zenit St Petersburg into 31.4% three-point shooting. Both were way under Zenit's regular season numbers (78.5 ppg., 38.2% 3FG).

Barcelona grafic 2

Another sign of its improvement is that Barca is limiting three-point production by its opponents. Last season, Barca's defense let teams launch 27.4 three-point shots and make 10.0 of them, the second- and third-highest averages allowed, respectively, among all EuroLeague teams. This season, Barca allows just 22.1 three-point shots taken and 7.5 made, the third-lowest averages in both categories.

Of course, basketball is more than defense. Experience and talent on offense are equally important, and Barca has plenty of both, with eight players returning to the Final Four and two former champs in Nick Calathes and Cory Higgins. Of course, Coach Jasikevicius was one of the most successful EuroLeague players ever, winning four titles with Barcelona, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos Athens.

With so many offensive-gifted players all around, if Barcelona plays good defense, then offense should come to the team almost naturally.