Regal FC Barcelona blew away Bizkaia Bilbao Basket to win 74-64 at Palau Blaugrana and take a 1-0 series lead in the ACB Playoff Finals.
Lorbek the Star
Erazem Lorbek top scored with 24 points in just over 29 minutes, putting up 11 in the first 8 minutes alone as Barcelona overwhelmed the first-time finalists. The Slovenian big man hit a three pointer to open the game, and with Juan Carlos Navarro pulling the strings and an aggressive defense able to contest every Bilbao shot, the score quickly raced away to a 22-7 lead for Barcelona, settling at 26-12 by the end of the first quarter.
Bilbao were unable to generate easy shots from thier flex offense, with Barcelona’s bigs using their athleticism and quickness to disrupt ball movement, causing turnovers on the interior. Ricky Rubio, in his first game since his NBA move was confirmed, again came off the bench behind Victor Sada, and although his first action was to miss a layup, 3 assists in 3 minutes then followed, including a beautiful, wraparound bullet pass off the dribble to an open Alan Anderson in the left corner, who swished the three.
Bilbao opened the second quarter on a 9-2 run as Jackson converted a triple then finally got some pick and roll action going with Mavroeidis. But the momentum shift never really happened, as Boniface NDong blocked a shot then the ball zipped down the other end for a pull up three on the break from Navarro to make it 39-26. At halftime the Barcelona lead had only been trimmed by two points, and stood at 43-31. The telling statistics at halftime included Bilbao only shooting 8/22 from two point range, and only 3/4 from the line.
Barcelona pull away after halftime
Bilbao had fought hard to not let the game slip completely away from them in the second quarter, but unfortunately for them, that’s just what happened in the third. As in the first period, Lorbek opened the scoring with a triple, the start of a 12-2 run that killed off any hope of an upset victory. The third quarter finished 21-9 in favour of the hosts, and was merely a continuation and amplification of the problems Bilbao faced in the first half. They had beaten Real Madrid in the semis with Jackson pushing the ball and getting to the rim, good three point shooting, getting to the line, and strong perimeter defense. Jackson finished with only 7 points from 6 shots, as a team they were 6/17 from three point range and shot 14/18 from the line.9 of those FTs came in the fourth quarter, in which they outscored Barcelona 24-10, further demonstrating just how important it is to their offense. As for perimeter defense, it was virtually non-existent – exemplified by Jaka Lakovic shaking off a screen on the right wing to glide into the lane with ease for an uncontested layup. This happened far too often for Coach Katsikaris’ liking, and he will be hoping it was just an abberation from his team.
Fourth quarter fightback – too little, too late
The fourth quarter saw a partial comeback from Bilbao but by then it was too late. Chris Warren attacked the hoop and some threes went down, but it was difficult to gauge whether this was merely Barcelona taking their foot off the gas, up 24 points at the final break. The lead was cut to 70-58 with 5:21 remaining – not out of sight for a miracle comeback. Chris Warren drove strong to the hole on a fastbreak following a steal, but Ricky Rubio made a dextrous, emphatic block from behind to prevent the layup, followed by the inevitable Lorbek mid range J to push the gap back to 14 and starve the putative comeback of its last remaining oxygen. Bilbao remained hard working and proud to the end, but the ten point margin of victory doesn’t express the complete control Barcelona had over the vast majority of this game.
For Barcelona, perhaps Erazem Lorbek won’t score 20+ in every game, but he was the key tonight. According to the official ACB twitter feed (@ACBCOM), when he was on the floor, Barcelona outscored Bilbao by 59-35. When he was on the bench, it was 15-29. Although Navarro shot poorly, finishing with 9 points on 4/13 FG, his probing and quick ball movement meant Lorbek was able to knock down open shots from mid and long range (3/3 on 3ptFG). Alan Anderson had a poor shooting night (9 points, 2/8 2ptFG, 1/1 3ptFG) but was able to beat his man one-on-one, and overall, Barcelona were bigger, more athletic and more talented.
For Bilbao, poor spacing and an aggressive and athletic Barcelona defense meant virtually every shot was contested. The Barcelona defense was rarely stretched or made to switch or rotate too far. The final period offered a glimpse of how the Men in Black may find a way to make this series competitive – by ruthlessly attacking the rim, and they must find a way to allow Aaron Jackson to have more of an impact. Some more pick and rolls would not hurt either. But Pascual’s men have the personnel to adapt, and will feel extremely confident indeed about the chance of a sweep.