Real Madrid looked like it was sliding towards another road defeat on Friday night in Munich. After letting an 11-point halftime lead slip away in the second half and without the services of its two centers, it looked like it was FC Bayern Munich's game to win.
However, Real finished the game on a 0-8 run which few saw coming to pull off a 76-80 win that now has the team going into Round 9 in a share of second place alongside four other teams with a 6-2 record.
"When it looked the worst, we stepped up," Coach Pablo Laso admitted after the game. "We ran out of big guys, but we controlled the last possession and played good defense at the end."
Real looked to be in a bit of trouble when All-EuroLeague center Walter Tavares fouled out with 3:18 to go in the game and Bayern up 71-69. But when Tavares is not around, Real knows it can rely on fellow big man Vincent Poirier to step up. However, Poirier fouled out just 14 seconds later. Bayern was soon up by 4, a margin it took into the final 2 minutes.
That's when Laso turned to a lineup with four guards and Guerschon Yabusele playing as a center.
"We knew that we could suffer a little bit on rebounds, but we played a pretty good defense. Also, they were switching almost everything defensively, so we needed to spread out the floor. That is what we did at the end, and I think it worked out," Laso said.
That lineup forced 4 turnovers in the final 96 seconds after Bayern committed only 4 turnovers to that point of the game. Real held the hosts scoreless for the final 2 minutes and 13 seconds as it rallied to victory.
And even though the defense down the stretch got Real to victory, it was the effort of Yabusele up to that point that kept Real in the game in the first place.
The Real forward scored 8 of his game-high 21 points in the last 4 minutes of the game, including a pair of triples that stopped the bleeding when Los Blancos needed it most. Yabusele was 3 for 4 from long range on the night and also made 5 of 6 two-point shots, looking pretty much unstoppable the entire game.
It was Yabusele's sixth double-digit scoring performance of the season and one that might change how opponents view - and play - against Real. This team whose biggest strength has been its towering presence in the paint now also has a proven force and offensive threat that can hurt teams inside and from the outside.
The win in Munich was far from anything even remotely scripted, but it was a victory that could have many long-term benefits for a team that, even if it had any doubts, now knows for sure that it can play - and win - without either, or both, of its centers.