“Without defense, you lose”

Nikola Mirotic, during the Euroleague final against Efes.

Barça could not renew in Cologne the poster of its last continental conquest in 2010. “What was missing to win?”, They asked Claver. “Micic and Larkin missed in the second half. We did not defend at the level that a final deserves. And without defending you can’t win ”, summed up, between reproach and resignation, one of the Barça dressing room veterans. Jasikevicius’s analysis also pointed to a defense that conceded 86 points: “We have lost for details, we have left a lot of easy points for not knowing where we risk or not.” The Lithuanian coach, despite the defeat, concluded: “We had a magnificent season in the Euroleague and we fell short due to our mistakes. We were close. The playoff begins on Tuesday (against Joventut) and the series will be super short. You have to forget about this and that means being tough ”.

Abrines put the counterpoint. “We are hurt, because we think that our season deserved more. But we will fight to return ”, explained the forward. The defense as the epicenter of Barça’s dilemmas throughout the season and also in the frustrated fight for the title.

Barcelona could not culminate in the final in Cologne the positive evolution of a season that started in the worst possible way. Jasikevicius’s fights when he began to coach in September occurred at the same time that his team lost from the Catalan League to Andorra (84-85) to the Super Cup against Real Madrid (67-72). The Lithuanian coach is convinced that his direct and energetic approach with the players is ideal to obtain the best performance from the team. “It’s my way of working and I’m sure they will accept it,” he maintains. He does not hide his scolding, does not compromise or repress himself in front of the microphones or in front of the cameras. During the first weeks of competition, when the club considered the possibility of incorporating a pivot, it exposed what it missed the most in its squad. “This team is not missing a piece. We look for character before a piece. What I would like is to have more bastards ”, he sentenced. His reproaches focused mainly on the lack of defensive efficiency.

“We clearly have a bad idea about our attitude, it’s a sign of a bad-minded team. While you are playing well in attack you do not defend. And that takes its toll on us. It is unacceptable ”, repeated Jasikevicius in his analysis after several games. “Defending like this we will have no options in the final,” he said after Higgins’ saving throw in the semifinals against CSKA.

Barça’s trajectory this season improved from January. After the defeat against Valencia on December 1, he began a streak of 19 wins and a single defeat, against Real Madrid (85-87), in the League. In the Euroleague, he stayed in first place throughout the regular season, except for a slump with three losses in a row in December. The second of those defeats coincided with a critical moment. The Lithuanian coach had stopped counting on Heurtel, unhappy with his attitude. The agreement to terminate the Frenchman’s contract came on January 19 and the French guard signed for Villeurbanne, but without the possibility of playing in the Euroleague. Barça signed Westermann from France to relieve Heurtel, although his performance has been discreet and his minutes have decreased.

In September, Barça, squeezed by its serious economic crisis, extended its policy of temporarily reducing the chips of its best-paid athletes, offering them an extension of their contracts in exchange. He extended the Mirotic contract for two more years, until 2025. The club was satisfied with its performance, despite the fact that during its first season the team failed to win a title. The team led by Svetislav Pesic lost in the quarterfinals of the Cup against Valencia, in the final of the League against Baskonia and the Euroleague was canceled due to the pandemic.

The Montenegrin player won his first Barça title in February. Barça beat Real Madrid in the Cup final. Three weeks after his contract extension, Mirotic suffered from covid. He was sick again for two weeks in January due to a personal problem.

On February 20, Barça signed Pau Gasol. On April 9, he dressed again as a Barça player 20 years after he left to triumph in the NBA. The arrival of Laporta brought about several changes in the organizational structure of the club. Albert Soler and Nacho Rodríguez were relieved and Juan Carlos Navarro was appointed sports director. The managers who made up the current Barça squad were fired, although Bartomeu had an essential weight in the signing of Mirotic, and Navarro in that of Pau Gasol, who completed a luxury squad. In Cologne, Efes broke the Barça dream. The conquest of the Euroleague remains a pending challenge.

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