Going into the final month of 2015, Real Madrid were 2-5 in the Euroleague season and in danger of becoming the first team to win the title and then get eliminated the very next outing in the opening stages. It was a worrying time, but the holders persevered and now stand at 1-0 in the Top 16.
Their three wins from the remaining three regular season matches were certainly impressive, and is testiment to the booming character that this Real Madrid side does have, even in the face of adversary.
One of the leaders though of their current four-game winning streak in the Euroleague is Mexican international Gustavo Ayon, a former NBA big man, currently making a mark in Europe’s premier league of basketball. His guidence in helping Madrid through the regular season and indeed the narrow 82-79 win in round one of the Top 16 against Brose Baskets, averaging 12.8 points on 80 percent two-point shooting (20/25), six rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals and one block for a performance index rating of +21.3 a game was noted as his stats and influence earned him MVP honours for December.
But as Ayon and company look to maintain their winning start in the Top 16 tonight on the road against CSKA Moscow, the Mexican admits that he and his team-mates were not feeling the pressure, they were just taking it one game at a time.
Starting with an 80-73 home win over Fenerbahce on December 3 in round eight of the regular season.
“We changed our intensity,” says Ayon. “In that sense, the team took a step forwards and that allowed us to win that game. We played really, really good defence in the second half, which gave us some fresh air and allowed us to think we could make it to the next round, which was the goal.
“We took one game at a time to make it to the Top 16. We didn’t talk about anything specific, we just focused on winning the game no matter what.”
Then Real turned in what arguably was their best game of the Euroleague season thus far, an 86-67 demolition of Bayern Munich, inside the Audi Dome, with dedicated fans that were hoping to celebrate not only a Bayern win, but relegating Madrid to the second tier and Eurocup basketball.
“This (Bayern) team has a lot of character,” Ayon said. “Not only do we have really talented players, but our character has helped us be so successful in the last year. We become a very dangerous team when we play good defence, like we did in that game.”
Then with their Euroleague season on the line in a winner-take-all encounter with French side Strasbourg, a team that handed Real a 93-86 loss in the first game in France, the champions showed us what they are truly capable of.
The Liga Endesa side raced to a 29-15 lead after the first quarter, and with six players scoring in double figures, led by Swedish international Jeffery Taylor’s 16 points, Madrid won easily 97-65 and advanced to the Top 16.
“We needed this win and the team was really focused,” Ayon commented. “From the beginning of the game, we played with high intensity, playing good defence and finding good options on offence.
“That gave us confidence during the game. It is not easy for a team to arrive to a place like Barclaycard Center to face the Euroleague champions in a decisive game, and bounce back from a slow start. We were really confident after that.”
And from there, Madrid head to Moscow tonight with a 1-0 record thanks to a win against Brose Baskets in the first round of action in the Top 16.
Are we finally seeing the Real Madrid that conquered all last season to lift all trophies available to them?
Quotes from Javier Gancedo