Madrid embraces Barcelona in the first duel of the ACB final
Mirotic tries to assist under the hoop in the duel against Madrid.
Mirotic tries to assist under the hoop in the duel against Madrid.Enric Fontcuberta (EFE)

Like that big guy who steals the sandwich or the notes from the skinniest or smallest boy in the class, Madrid abused Barcelona at the Palau in the first game of the ACB final. A win away from home that puts him ahead in the series and puts the home court advantage in his favour; a result (75-88) that makes it clear to the Barça team that they will have to do much more if they want to say theirs before the whites are crowned with laurels.

It seemed that the game was going to be played by that Barcelona from earlier in the year, who discounted rivals like someone who plucked a daisy, an imperial team that very few coughed at. This is how Mirotic claimed it, who after scoring a three-pointer from home preceded by a layup, nodded as the Palau burst into cheers. A 7-2 run at the start that, however, was a real mirage because Madrid explained that they have everything and not just an inside game as Barça was worried about, especially since they cannot count on the injured Oriola or Sanli [se torció el tobillo en el último duelo de las semifinales ante el Joventut]. And little by little, triple by triple, rebound by rebound, steal by steal and run by run, Laso’s team — Chus Mateo is still on the bench waiting for the coach to return after the heart attack he suffered last week last—was a hammer that undermined Barça basketball, also his diminished confidence because in the memory was the recent defeat in the semifinals of the Final Four of the Euroleague.

Two shots out of three by Causeur, one by Hanga and another by Yabusele served to endorse that Madrid not only prevails in the bottle —with Tavares and Yabusele— but also has a team that attacks by land, sea and air. Nothing that Mirotic and the ever-elegant Higgins could cover up because there were turnovers, as well as white hypersonic transitions commanded by Hanga to end the first quarter with an expressive 17-30. Hanga, that point guard who did not please Jasikevicius and who took the airlift in the summer.

The tune did not change with the passing of the minutes. Barça fearful even though Kuric claimed his share of prominence or Laprovittola converted some sporadic basket of genius; and Madrid tuned, again with Hanga and Rudy with the outside shots, also with Poirier, Yabusele and Tavares dominating under the hoop. Convincing 31-49 for Madrid at the intermission, only upset by the knee injury suffered by Randolph. “The difference is the energy between one and the other,” Jasikevicius admitted as he straightened his tie and bowed his head, away from those resounding and expressive reprimands that he usually utters. “If we maintain the intensity we will have options”, replied Mateo.

attempted drowning

Barcelona tried to correct itself after the break, with an electric marking by Calathes on Hanga —he did not score more points—, with a team that played so hard that with six minutes to go in the fourth they had already entered the bonus of the faults. “Like this, this way, this is how Madrid wins!”, Shouted the Palau, dissatisfied with the number of personnel indicated to one side and another, also with a Madrid that did not give up because Causeur continued to do his thing and Deck joined the recital. A stifled attempt for the azulgrana and Madrid, who showed muscle (51-74) at the end of the third quarter. More of the same.

Yes, Barcelona found its pride in the last quarter, spurred on by the young Jokubaitis, plenty of self-confidence and talent, also by the maverick Laprovittola. A sprint that reduced the distances to 11, but between the rebounds in the two hoops —Madrid managed 18 offensive rebounds; the same ones that Barça did in defense— and Deck’s inspiration, the rebellion was soon bathed in chloroform. Slap in the face for the azulgrana, who complicate the series as soon as it begins.

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