In a crucial match for both clubs, Barcelona beat Panathinaikos Superfoods at home (72-57), thanks to a dominant performance in the third quarter, and put an end to a three-game losing streak in the Euroleague.
After 10 games in the championship, the Catalans are still trying to climb higher on the table (5-5 record), so the question now is: Are they capable of turning things around and becoming one of the favourites for the coveted title?
During the summer transfer period, Barcelona made many changes to its roster in order to return to the top of Europe.
The biggest one was the departure of coach Xavi Pascual (who returned to “Palau Blaugrana” for the first time as an opponent on Friday night) and the arrival of former Olympiacos and Lokomotiv Kuban coach, Giorgos Bartzokas, as his replacement.
The 51-year-old coach, who won the Euroleague title in 2013, had a different playing style to Pascual’s one and signed players that could adapt to it.
As a result, guards Tyrese Rice and Petteri Koponen joined the team, while forward Jonathan Holmes also became a member of the Catalans.
Moreover, the acquisition of forward Victor Claver was very important for Bartzokas’ tactics, with the Spanish player having a great relationship with the Greek coach in Lokomotiv Kuban last year.
The first six games of the season saw the “Blaugrana” play well and earn crucial victories, both at home and on the road.
Although they suffered two straight defeats to Fenerbahce (72-73 at “Palau Blaugrana”) and Crvena Zvezda (76-65 in Belgrade), respectively, they won the other four games (against Unics Kazan, Brose Bamberg, Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Zalgiris Kaunas) and climbed higher on the table.
However, the squad faced many injuries that prevented them from being at their very best in the following matches.
More specifically, Koponen had a car accident and missed many games, due to a concussion, with forward Justin Doellman and the legendary Juan Carlos Navarro also being out of action for a few games (the Spanish guard is still not available to play).
To make matters worse, guard Pau Ribas suffered a season-ending injury, causing more problems to coach Bartzokas.
As a result, the Catalan squad was in free fall in the past two weeks, losing four straight games in the Euroleague and the ACB, respectively, and playing very badly on both ends of the floor.
In their loss to Olympiacos (59-52) in Piraeus, they scored just 52 points, which is the lowest scoring performance in the club’s history in the Euroleague.
Two days later, the Catalans were decimated by Real Madrid at home (63-102) and their defeat to Galatasaray in Istanbul (78-64) was another step-back.
Consequently, Barcelona couldn’t endure another loss and the match against Panathinaikos was of utmost importance for the team.
The “Blaugrana” easily prevailed over their opponents, though, and the acquisition of former Bayern Munich guard, Alex Renfroe, can be the turning point for the club.
The reason is that the “Blaugrana” have a very difficult schedule in the next two weeks, with three consecutive games on the road (against Anadolu Efes, CSKA Moscow and Baskonia), which can significantly affect the squad’s presence in the Euroleague, especially if they lose to all three of their opponents.
In order to avoid such an unpleasant situation, Barcelona should become more effective on both ends of the floor, just like they did in the third quarter of the match against Panathinaikos, when they outscored their opponents 21-9.
Despite the significant number of injuries, coach Bartzokas has done a great job so far (apart from the match against Real Madrid), in his effort to impose his own tactics.
Focusing on a low-tempo playing style, the Greek coach emphasises on making his players play very tough defensively as well as have good and quick ball movement.
Apart from Rice, who is the leader (15.8 points and 4.7 assists per game), Stratos Perperoglou has made decent and consistent performances as well (5.5 ppg, 42.1% from the three-point range).
For his part, and thanks to Bartzokas’ presence, Aleksandar Vezenkov has significantly improved, scoring crucial points offensively and being solid defensively (5.5 ppg, 52.9% from the three-point range, along with four rebounds per game), while center Ante Tomic (who was Barcelona’s best player against Panathinaikos with 16 points and six rebounds) remains a reference point inside the paint.
Concurrently, the presence of Renfroe will create a decent duo with Rice in the backcourt line, making the Catalans’ playing style more unpredictable, which is crucial for the squad, as difficult matches are coming up.
With Barcelona making almost 14 turnovers per game, it’s vital for the club to be fully concentrated in every game, as this is the only way they will be able to play very well and earn crucial victories, both at home and on the road, in order to secure their place in the playoffs.
That said, and despite the upcoming difficult schedule, Bartzokas and his players look ready to overcome the obstacles and make a come-back, starting from their game against Anadolu Efes this Friday in Istanbul.