Euroleague champions Real Madrid were loyal to their appointment with the 2019 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four, earning themselves the chance to defend their title in Vitoria-Gasteiz. After a 89-82 win over Panathinaikos at OAKA in the third game of the series, “Los Blancos” will fight for the “undécima”, the 11th crown in their history.
At the same time, this will be Real Madrid’s seventh appearance in a Final Four in the last nine years, a streak that started in 2011. The two seasons that the Spanish powerhouse was not in the Final Four was in 2011-12 and 2015-16 (swept by Fenerbahce).
As far as the third game of the series against Panathinaikos goes, it was largely decided when Gustavo Ayon scored as many as 10 points in less than four minutes. Either receiving the ball from Facundo Campazzo or feeding Madrid’s great shooters, like Taylor, Randolph and (again) Campazzo, the experienced Mexican center did what was expected of him, finishing off the Greek team.
Citing the Turkish Airlines Euroleague website: “When the dust settled, Ayon needed just 19 minutes to score 12 points, grab 6 rebounds, dish 4 assists and finish the game with a performance index rating of 17. He was one of five Madrid scorers in double digits. In five years with Madrid, Ayon is in his fourth Final Four and looks for his third EuroLeague title”.
After the game in Athens, TalkBasket.net looked for him in Real Madrid’s locker-room and needed just a couple of moments more than Campazzo to spot him.
Q: Gustavo, congratulations on the victory and the classification to the Final Four. What was the key to achieving both?
A: We knew about the hardness of the game. Panathinaikos puts a lot of intensity at the time of playing. We had to keep our concentration for forty minutes and that’s what we did. That’s the reason why we’re in the Final Four.
Q: What made the difference in this series?
A: Defensively, we were pretty good. Jeff Taylor especially did a great job to Calathes. The truth is that Facu managed the game very well and that helped us to win both Games 1 and 3.
Q: The key player has been Campazzo?
A: Everyone in general. Facu made a great series. Jeff too, Edy Tavares, Anthony Radolph, we’ve all done our part. In the end, the important thing is that the team has won and we are happy for it.
Q: How did Panathinaikos OPAP react as an opponent?
A: We know they’re a tough team. They stood up against us in the first game; in the second we were very good ourselves; in Athens, the match was not decided until its very end. The truth is that it was a difficult series.
Q: Are you aware of the fact that Real Madrid have prevailed over Panathinaikos in the last eight games, which is the biggest winning streak in their match-up history?
A: We were thinking only about the next game. We have not stayed on the fact that we beat them five or six times in a row. We came to OAKA in the regular season and won at the last second on Rudy’s basket. Futhermore, this doesn’t tell you anything. I believe that in the important games the team is very serious and we are happy to be in the Final Four.
Q: Did Rudy’s buzzer-beater change anything?
A: Not a thing! We might as well have lost that game and we would still go with maximum focus and concentration into the play-off series.
Q: Which teams do you expect to see in the Final Four?
A: All play-off teams are hard. Fenerbahce is a great team and the same goes for CSKA, Efes, Baskonia. Zalgiris has made a great series of play-offs but the important thing is that we think only of ourselves. From now on, our mind is in the next match, the Euroleague semifinal. We are only thinking about this game.
Q: Madrid seems to possess a winning character in the least year. Where is it based?
A: It stems from the top: the club, the institution. The “gene” that it has and it makes them sign players for that purpose.
Q: Is it easy to defend the title?
A: No, it’s very complicated. Winning it once is hard enough. Winning it twice is complicated but we are up for it. We have worked very well all year long for it.
Q: What’s your future? Are you going to stay with the team after summer?
A: We will see. Let’s hope so. We’ll see if there are chances to go to another place or to the NBA. Still nothing is certain.