Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
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Sergio Rodriguez, Real Madrid
Apr 14, 2014
by Javier Gancedo, Euroleague.net
Few players have surprised Turkish Airlines Euroleague fans as much as Sergio Rodriguez of Real Madrid. He may not have started any Euroleague games this season, but he certainly seems to be decisive in each and every one of them. Rodriguez, nicknamed 'El Chacho', has been playing the best basketball of his career this season. When he's not shooting the highest percentages of his career, he's putting the ball in the right hands by feeding one of his teammates, often for an alley-oop dunk. He is the flag bearer of Madrid's run-and-gun playing style. Rodriguez leads the Euroleague in performance index ranking per 40 minutes (31.5) and assists also on 40-minute basis (9.3). His long beard and flashy playing style have made Rodriguez a fan favorite, and not only in Madrid. Like the rest of his teammates, Rodriguez has never won the Euroleague and does not want to wait much longer. It all starts this week with a thrilling five-game playoffs series against Olympiacos Piraeus - a rematch of last season's final. Rodriguez, who averages 14.2 points on 53.5% three-point shooting and 5.2 assists in less than 23 minutes per game, thinks he can use that experience to beat Olympiacos this time around. "Both teams are slightly different. They changed more players than we did. It was a painful experience; it always hurts to lose a final, especially in the Euroleague," Rodriguez told Euroleague.net. "It also helped us to learn. We are more experienced now and that loss allowed us to be more mature this season."
Hello, Sergio, congratulations on a great season. The playoffs are finally here. How does Madrid feel before the higher stages of the Euroleague season?
"Thank you. Yes, at last! We had a very good run, starting with a difficult regular season in which we finished first and undefeated, which is what we wanted. The Top 16 has become really hard in the last couple of years, with many games against great teams, having to play on difficult courts. We managed to reach our first goal in this Euroleague season, which was the playoffs. After that, the most important thing was finishing first or second to have the home-court advantage in the playoffs. Now it is time to enjoy the playoffs."
You come off an unexpected loss against Zalgiris Kaunas. Has that been a wake-up call for Madrid right before the playoffs?
"Well, we had a very good season until now. The good thing is that we have been playing together for several years. We've had some tough losses and have also won a lot of games together. We have been in many different situations and are not new to this. We didn't have a good game the other night. We didn't play well and Zalgiris was better than us. After that game, we now have the playoffs against Olympiacos and are very motivated to win."
Like you just said, you will play Olympiacos in a rematch of last season's final. How much is the team looking forward to this playoffs series, particularly against Olympiacos?
"We would be looking forward to playing against any opponent, we would be equally excited and motivated. There are great series this season and the best teams and players in Europe are facing each other. The fact that we play against Olympiacos is special because of last season's defeat. They are a very good team full of winners, and they have a great player in Spanoulis."
What did you learn in last season's Final Four that you can use in this series?
"Well, these are different moments, a different time and both teams are slightly different. They changed more players than we did. It was a painful experience; it always hurts to lose a final, especially in the Euroleague. It also helped us to learn. We are more experienced now and that loss allowed us to be more mature this season."
Olympiacos returns with a more physical lineup, the same fighting spirit and of course, with Vassilis Spanoulis leading the team. Would focusing on Spanoulis only be a mistake?
"Like I said before, they are a winning team. They have won the Euroleague in each of the last two seasons, have a lot of experienced and good players. Spanoulis can be a decisive factor for them, of course. We have to focus on everyone and everything, but especially on playing the way we want: playing hard defense, being able to rebound well on defense and running the break. We have to be able to play high-tempo and be really focused."
In just one year, you have gone from 29.5% to 53.5% in three-point accuracy. Is it a matter of confidence or did you do any extra work to improve your shooting percentages?
"I always try to improve and practice to become a better player in all aspects on the game. I try to read defenses and find the right teammate - or the right shot. I had games with good three-point shooting percentage and others in which I didn't have such luck or played against good defenses which made me drive or pass the ball more. Above all, I am happy with the season we are having."
You have come off the bench in each game this season, often changing games in the second quarter. How important is it to analyze the game before you step on court? How do you like that role?
"We all have the same goal: we want to win. We know what the goal is. Knowing that, we all want to play as much as possible, which is logical and good in any team. Coming off the bench doesn't mean any problem to me. We feel comfortable with the rotations we have and need to make the most out of our own circumstances. Coming off the bench, I can see how the game is developing and step in with a clear mind, much more than if I started the games. A game changes as it goes by, but you can observe things and what players expect from it. In my case, I try to focus on how Sergio Llull is being guarded. That helps me to go out ready. I have to get as much information as I can to try to do better later on."
For a pass-first point guard like you are, how great is it to play in a team with so many good scorers that tries to run the floor as much as possible?
"It is very important for me to have the teammates that I have, very talented players with great scoring abilities. As long as we play good defense and grab the defensive rebounds, we can play in transition and make everything more confusing for our opponents. It makes things easier."
Overall, everybody seems to have a good time in Madrid: players, staff and, above all, fans. How much fun is to be on a team that not only wins, but entertains everyone?
"First of all, you have to win. If we were not winning, nobody would be enjoying it. On the other hand, that is our playing style, the way we play as a team. Playing at a high tempo suits us. We have to play defense, go in transition and surprise our opponents. We always try to play the best way possible, and there is a lot of talent in this team. A lot of our players are doing well and that makes everything easier."
None of the players or coaches on Madrid have won a Euroleague title. Does it motivate you even more to try to lift the trophy in Milan?
"Yes, always, it is one of goals for us not only this season, but it previous years, too. This trophy means the most to any European player. The Euroleague has the best teams and, obviously, winning it is one of our goals. We have to go step by step, be focused and use the experience we have from previous seasons. We have to be very focused, because any team can beat you."