May 16th will mark the fourth time this season that Real Madrid face Barcelona. The stakes will be higher, the game will take place outside of Spain and a couple of injuries could alter the rotations of both teams. However, the first three versions of this season’s clásico offer plenty of material for a Euroleague semifinal preview.
Numbers indicate that the two Spanish giants find it difficult to stop each other from scoring. Madrid’s triumph against the blaugrana at the London final four was based on an inspired defensive performance in the closing minutes of the game, but the Spanish champs have not been able to reproduce it this season. Barcelona scored a little over 106 points per a hundred possessions in their three meetings with the second-best defense in Euroleague. This number could have easily been a lot more impressive had they not missed 12 free throws – not to mention a few great looks from behind the arc – at the Copa Del Rey final. The main reason for Barcelona’s success on the offensive end is their pick and roll execution:
George Rowland and sJacas discuss the Dario Šarić and Eurocup finals.
Podcast (give it some time – it does load; right-click to download)
It wasn’t competitive for forty minutes, but Game 1 between Real Madrid and Olympiacos was full of storylines: bad blood boiling over on more than one occasions, Rudy playing like an MVP, Mirotic dominating, Spanoulis putting forth a valiant effort and a barrage of three pointers from both teams defining the turning points of the game. However, in terms of Xs & Os, the first half told you almost everything you needed to know about the strengths of Madrid and certain openings that Olympiacos can’t take advantage.
Madrid had done their homework
Coming into the playoffs, Olympiacos lineups featuring Bryant Dunston at power forward were particularly prolific on offense, to the tune of more than 120 points per a hundred possessions. It’s safe to say that this number dropped somewhat after a disastrous start to the game for the champs, who were -12 with that old school formation on the floor. The American center moved to the four during the top 16, as a replacement to the injured Giorgos Printezis. Opponents were often caught off guard, allowing Dunston to dive toward the hoop from the weakside, finishing strong at the rim and pick up a few transition-initiating steals at the perimeter. Pablo Laso had apparently watched enough tape to not fall for this trick.
Here’s the problem with paradigm shifts: they are often associated with too many gray areas to neatly fit an analytical model. Take Euroleague centers. It could be argued that the omnipresence of pick and roll sets in a modern European offense has changed the way the position is played- size is less important than explosiveness and agility, footwork in the post has taken a backseat to defensive footwork. This is why undersized Olympiacos dominated inside against CSKA Moscow in last season’s final four. This is why Stephane Lasme won the Defensive Player of the Year award. This is why every Real Madrid opponent this season secretly hopes that Pablo Laso will keep playing Giannis Bouroussis over Marcus Slaughter (or maybe I’m just prejudiced against Bouroussis).
George Rowland, 21/03/2014, 17:45
Laso’s use of zone was a stroke of genius in my mind, Messina mentioned in his latest blog post that it is paramount for CSKA not to allow fast break points, and how offence and defence are intrinsically linked. This is especially important against a Real team that excels in the open court. Laso’s zone meant that Messina could only look to Nenad Krstic and Sasha Kaun as post up options when the zone was employed. This is in contrast to the previous match up between the two teams, where Messina used his guards and wing players around the basket frequently. This in turn trapped Real’s fast break initiators around the basket, slowing their fast break offence.
Messina relied heavily on Sonny Weems, which also raises another interesting point from his blog post, where he talks of strategies for covering a player having a big scoring game.
As for strategies, there are two of them. You either try to stop the player who’s scorching you by sending double and triple teams and forcing everyone else to try and beat you. Or you let him get 50 and concentrate on taking his teammates out of the game completely, hoping that without offensive involvement they’ll start slacking defensively and your chances will grow.
This is particularly pertinent when it comes to Weems, not only as there were many occasions where the ball stopped while he looked for his own shot (whether this is the fault of Weems, Messina or his team-mates still remains a mystery to me). But also because it seems to have affected CSKA’s rotations; CSKA have found their best success coming when they play with their great floor spacing options (Micov, Fridzon & Vorontsevich) at the wing positions. In this game those three players combined for just 44:25 between them, despite Vorontsevich logging the majority of his minutes at the 4. This combined with the lack of minutes for Kaun (due to foul trouble) and Hines meant that Messina was over reliant on Weems (37:13) and Krstic (27:36).
Another point Messina made that was of the importance of preventing offensive rebounds, and that was an area where CSKA struggled yesterday, as Real picked up 12 offensive boards. Nenad Krstic has slowly evolved into a flat footed rebounder and 5 offensive rebounds came from centres for Real.
George Rowland, 20/03/2014, 23:20
Press Conference (all quotes paraphrased, so apologies for any spelling or syntax errors.)
Messina: The fouls on Sasha Kaun were key as it didn’t allow us to play Sasha Kaun and Nenad Krstic together, and the points given away on fouls decided the game.
The zone did no surprise me as it was one of Laso’s options, I was not happy with the way we attacked the zone initially, though we did eventually crack it, the key stretch for us was the beginning of the third quarter.
Real were a lot more aggressive today, and seemed more relaxed in Moscow. When we were missing Weems and Hines it forced us to come in with a strong mindset.
Kyle Hines is not the best option at five as we can use Hines around the basket while Krstic is a great pick and pop player, we use a different system to Olympiacos, and that means that Hines can’t play the same way with us. I like him being played with Kaun, they have good chemistry together and link up together.
Our reliance on Weems tonight made us unbalanced and it stopped the ball at times, though it was good to see him play well after the injury.
Defensively we were good most of the time, and in the third and fourth quarter we really picked it up and got turnovers that allowed us to run.
I don’t think this was Rudy’s best performance for Real this year, we shouldn’t just assess him for the points he scores. Sometimes he’s better when he doesn’t score and has to really put effort in elsewhere.
CSKA has a physical team across the board, they are strong inside and they will look inside, tactically we are a team that doesn’t play a lot of zone, but we know the line-ups that they will use and we can prepare accordingly for it.
George Rowland, 20/03/2014, 22:29
Real lead 66-61 going into the 4th Quarter, despite looking pretty dominant in transition at times, their defence has been unable to stop CSKA, despite forcing a lot of turnovers. Sometimes in half court Real look a little lost, and like they don’t have anywhere to go then Sergio Rodriguez will find a pass out of nowhere and they’ll get an open three, a Serrod pull-up or a layup, Chacho is the ultimate safety blanket.
Fridzon again has hit key shot after key shot for CSKA this season, this time a transition three after a mini Real run to put CSKA back within 5. I really can’t go on enough about how great I think he is as a player. On the other hand, I can’t go on enough about how poor Jeremy Pargo has been, besides his first quarter scoring outburst, he has committed mistake after mistake, silly fouls, silly turnovers and ill-advised shots.
I haven’t mentioned him much in my posts to this point but Rudy Fernandez really has been the outstanding player of this game, his ability to create steals and his scoring ability coming of screens is a deadly combination, especially considering his athleticism, he’s been a joy to watch today.
With 5 minutes left in the game Real once again have a 10 point lead, at 80-70, with Rudy at the line to shoot three free throws. After three makes CSKA once again stagnated and could only find a Sonny Weems heaved long two, which missed, and sums up their day to date.
The head to head could be key as both teams will have the same record, and with Real taking advantage of Krtic’s terrible pick and roll defence it looks like Real could take it, they need to win by 14, and lead by that amount with CSKA getting the ball for the final possession, this could be a tense last play.
Slaughter defended Weems for the final play, which resulted in a Krstic missed hook shot. But Real touched the ball out of bounds, so CSKA have one last chance, which is a Weems missed fadeaway long two, how apt. Real will lead the group if they finish on the same record as CSKA.
George Rowland, 20/03/2014, 22:04
Real are back into their 3-2 zone to start the second half and first play off the bat CSKA’s ball movement stagnated with Sonny Weems and Jeremy Pargo, resulting in Nenad Krstic getting trapped under the basket. After a missed shot Real got the transition basket. It baffles me slightly to see three guys who aren’t great movers of the ball (Weems, Pargo and Krstic) on court against a zone. Despite that though, Krstic still has one elite skill, which is his ability to seal around the basket, which CSKA should use more to force Real out of the zone defence, especially posting him on Mirotic.
Real have persisted in going to Bourousis as a post up option thorughout the season, and he has been awful, they keep doing it here, and despite Krsitc being a poor defender I can’t see any reason that Laso wants to keep it up. Real have really been capitalising on their impressive transition game, they have picked up a lot of live ball steals to get easy baskets and always push the ball form defensive rebounds.
Messina has persisted with Micov and Weems over Fridzon and Pargo over Jackson at the start of this half and Real have opened up a ten point lead (58-48) with five minutes left, thus far in the game (5:03 left) Fridzon has logged 5:40 and Jackson 9:13.
Perhaps I’ve been a little harsh on Weems in the past, today his transition play has been fantastic, and his athleticism lends itself to a fantastic ability to finish in the open court, and he is one of CSKA’s few players that can create for himself, though this does lend itself to frequent poor turnovers.
Sasha Kaun picked up another foul away from the ball and has had to sit to down, bringing Krstic back in, who is now matched up with Slaughter as Real are back to man to man defence. He failed to find gainful position in the post against Slaughter, so I feel he may struggle again here. Real have gambled on defence leading to some live ball steals and open court offence, but that has also allowed CSKA to take advantage of their lack of position.
George Rowland, 20/03/2014, 21:29
Salah Mejri saw time guarding Krstic in the second quarter and while he is a fantastic athlete, he still has the tendency to want to block every shot and sky for every rebound, perhaps a lingering tendency from his time at lower levels, this allowed Krstic to deal with him handily, drawing a foul and pump faking him up before laying in easily.
Real’s backdoor alleyoop option to Rudy from Chacho connected in the second, and it’s something that really gets the Real beserkers into the game, and Rudy followed this up with a live ball steal and an open dunk. Real kept getting transition baskets and pushed them into a 33-29 lead with six and a half minutes left. Llull and Rudy with Rodriguez in the game are particularly dangerous.
Vitaly Fridzon seems to be the man that hits key shots at key times for CSKA and he has done it again today, nailing a corner three after Rudy’s two dunks to quieten the beserkerss. Sonny Weems has been scoring well as he is posted on Rudy, and leaks out on fast breaks. Sasha Kaun has been the victim of some tough foul calls, but playing Salah Mejri out beyond the three point line was a poor decision on his part and he’s probably sitting until the third quarter.
Dani Diez again saw time time in the second quarter and Real’s spacing suffered for it, but luckily for Real CSKA were unable to capitalise as Jeremy Pargo returned to his form from the start of the season, and was eventually pulled after a heinous turnover. When Diez was in the game CSKA switched even more than usual, using Khryapa on Diez as a freelance help defender.
Real returned to a 3-2 zone to close the second quarter, and it was largely successful, with the more athletic Mejri at the back he was able to clean up any mistakes in a way Bourousis couldn’t, first blocking Krstic at the rim before stepping across and taking a (questionable) charge.
George Rowland, 20/03/2014, 21:08
CSKA started with a massive lineup, and Real countered with a 3-2 zone. Real moved the ball well in the opening two minutes and hit two threes, but still at times looked a little reliant on isolating Rudy Fernandez when Vorontsevich or Khryapa switched onto him. CSKA looked to attack Ioannis Bourousis’ side of the zone (left block), particularly posting Sasha Kaun on him, who’s work in the post has impressed me in recent games.
Real’s ball movement is still as great as always, other than the occasional Rudy isolation as mentioned earlier, but Ioannis Bourousis, despite making a post isolation play seems unwilling to shoot from behind the arc, and CSKA are leaving him wide open out there. CSKA defensively are switching a lot on 1-5 PnR and then a 4-1 switch from the weak side. Sergio Llull has looked sprightly and athletic as usual and has gone to the rim with success making scooping layup and finding Nikola Mirotic in the corner for a three after a drive.
Jeremy Pargo has been aggressive for CSKA and is looking always to attack the rim other than near the end of the shot clock and when Real go under on screens (where he hit a pull up three) he has had a poor season to this point but has looked great this first quarter. Both Weems and Pargo have played over 8 minutes in the first quarter, normally a poor combination for CSKA but they have kept pace with Real’s normally fantastic starters well.
Kyle Hines length and athleticism really have to be seen in person to be appreciated, he is constantly moving and always finding a way to make space, he constantly seems to be able to get a hand and tip the ball on a rebound. Fantastic to watch so far.
George Rowland, 20/03/2014, 20:46
RMB: Llull, Fernandez, Darden, Mirotic, Bourousis
CSKA: Pargo, Weems, Vorontsevich, Khryapa, Kaun
George Rowland, 20/03/2014, 19:49
- CSKA made a key run in the 4th quarter with their super big front court of Krstic and Kaun, Felipe Reyes struggled to cope with Krstic’s size in particular.
- CSKA played Andrey Vorontsevich in their starting lineup, and looked for him to post up on Tremmel Darden early on. Vorontsevich also made a lot of shots from outside as Real helped off of him too much.
- Without Jaycee Carroll Real played Dani Diez in the second quarter and their spacing suffered from it, hence the large run for CSKA in the second. Particularly with the front court of Reyes and Slaughter and Reyes spacing is required, Diez does not provide this.
- CSKA’s two big runs coincided with Vitaly Fridzon being on the court, which is no surprise, as he has been fantastic in the Top 16. With Milos Teodosic potentially missing through injury, Fridzon will likely need to play a larger role.
George Rowland, 20/03/2014, 19:33
- This graphic shows all of Nenad Krstic’s touches against Real in their first match up in the Top 16, where CSKA prevailed 85-71
- He gets a lot of touches on the right block, which is strange for a right handed player, as it will lead him towards the baseline if he goes with his strong hand. Not only does this lead to an easier defensive play but it also cuts down the field of vision should Krstic want to pass.
- He gets very few touches down the lane as he very rarely rolls to the basket after setting a pick, possibly due to his lack of athleticism, this leads to a few long twos shot at a relatively good rate, though it does beg the question, should he be shooting threes?
- Krstic gets a lot of touches close to the three point line, and even outside, the majority of these were in hand off pick and roll situations, either to set up another pick and roll, a post up or Krstic for a mid range jumper.