Real Madrid left Istanbul 12 days ago on the brink of continental elimination and are now back one step away from making history. An adventure from manifest inferiority to indefatigable rebellion. A trip to the depths of Pablo Laso’s slate. “We are ready to go back to competing to the fullest,” the Madrid coach announced the day before, ready to once again squeeze resources and strategies to try to surrender to Anadolu Efes in the fifth and final match of the Euroleague quarter-series on Tuesday (18.45, DAZN).
The tie against the Turkish team has put Madrid’s capacity for reconstruction and transformation to the test like never before through the offensive and, above all, defensive adjustments proposed by Laso to overcome the casualties and equalize the pulse. With Usman Garuba as the leader of the studied subversion through the mutant 1-2-2 zone, with the 19-year-old youth squad tensing the pressure, which short-circuited an Efes that seemed unapproachable.
The Turkish team beat the Whites by 25 points in their visit to the WiZink Center in the regular league (83-108) just a month ago; by 27 in the first round of the series (90-63); by 23 in the second (91-68), and led by 13 points with five minutes remaining to close the third game. But Madrid, without Tavares (killed in combat in the first round), held on to those final five minutes like a burning nail, to safeguard their competitive pride and to dream of returning the tie to Istanbul in search of the feat. From the leap of faith to a safarrancho that led to a comeback and showed the way to the whites for the fourth game.
With that same zonal defense of adjustments, with Garuba and Tyus covering Micic and Larkin with their wingspan, Efes was left without scoring in the first six minutes of the fourth game (17-0 of partial) and only added four free throws in the last seven (23-4 to finish off another white comeback). Madrid only conceded three offensive rebounds to Efes that day. Laso’s plan managed to turn the disadvantage of the whites under the hoops until turning the rebound into the epicenter of rearmament. From 45-34 against the first game of the series, to 33-23 in favor in the fourth. With Llull transforming that domain into fast counterattacks and shots to unleash the game and the epic. Points and rhythm from defense.
“The fifth game may not look anything like the previous four. What we would like is for the score of the last two to be repeated ”, Laso explained before leaving for Istanbul, pending the recovery of the hits to define his match plan. Tavares and Thompkins participated in the last training and are part of the expedition. “Until before the game we will not decide. I would like to have everyone and I am optimistic, “said the Madrid coach.
There were no excuses after Campazzo’s departure, Randolph’s injury and Deck’s departure. And, without Tavares, this chameleonic Madrid gave itself more than ever to small ball. The comeback in the fourth game came with a quintet of short formed by Llull (1.90m), Carroll (1.88), Rudy (1.96), Abalde (2.02) and Garuba (2.03). The youth squad played the second half practically in full, supported the defensive system (along with a hyperactive Rudy) and stretched his effort in attack as well. On his final record that day, 24 points (with a determining 7 of 8 in free throws) and 12 rebounds (the same as Dunston and Singleton together). Without Tavares, Laso’s plan even managed to take Sanli, the Turkish giant, out of the game: from 16 points and 8 rebounds on the first day to the rosco of the fourth, with only four minutes on the court.
With the heart of its veterans, the vigor of Garuba and the slate of Laso, Madrid seek to make history. No team has come back from 2-0 against. But Madrid comes from far away and knows the way.