Regal FC Barcelona defeated Bizkaia Bilbao Basket 74-67 on Saturday evening to take a 2-0 lead in the ACB playoff final series. Juan Carlos Navarro led all scorers with 20 points and a dominant performance in the last 2 minutes to kill off any hopes of a Bilbao comeback.
Fotis Katsikaris made a change from Game 1, bringing Chris Warren into the starting lineup in place of Janis Blums, but the American guard quickly had to sit down with two fouls. This wasn’t the only change Bilbao made, as they looked to run the pick and roll with Aaron Jackson, something largely absent in Game 1, but the result was the same – contested midrange jumpshots, as Barcelona countered with a matchup zone that puzzled their opponents. The game was bitty and stop-start early on, with Bilbao called for off-the-ball fouls as they tried to slow the relentless Barcelona cutters. The more physical defense did work for Bilbao as the first quarter finished 14-11 in favour of the home team – whilst the Bilbao defense was much tighter, they were still finding it very difficult to put the ball in the basket at the other end.
Barcelona began to turn the screw in the second period, Ricky Rubio feeding Fran Vazquez for an exuberant reverse alley-oop, the first of his four baskets, all huge jams off precision assists. Terrence Morris hit Rubio with an amazing full court touchdown pass for a layup plus the foul, and Alan Anderson also threw down hard on a putback from Sada’s missed layup. Triples from Navarro, Anderson and Ingles pushed the Barcelona lead out to 32-20, during the second, but by halftime the lead was trimmed to 40-31. Barcelona’s ball movement was beginning to be too quick for Bilbao, and they scored in so much style, the margin was closer than the flow of the game would have suggested. Bilbao had grabbed 10 offensive rebounds but their 2/11 three point shooting and 7/14 from the line negated that advantage.
Barcelona defense tightens
Just as in Game 1, the third quarter was where Barcelona’s defense closed like a venus flytrap around the Bilbao offense, although unlike the first game, they were not able to score at will. Janis Blums opened the second half with a triple, but they would only score 6 more points in the period. A Joe Ingles ‘and 1’ put his team 46-34 to tie their biggest lead, as a straight up man-to-man defense strangled Bilbao’s offense. Aaron Jackson finished the game scoreless in only 15 minutes – Pascual’s side did a masterful job of funnelling him towards the baseline as he consistently probed but could not find either a shot or a pass. His instinct was not to force his shot inside, faced with the giants of NDong, Vazquez, Lorbek or Perovic in his way, but a more aggressive approach will be needed if he is to pull his team back into the series.
Barcelona led by 14 going into the final period, but a three point play by Janis Blums set off a 10-2 Bilbao run to give them hope at 56-50 with 5 munutes remaining. The game was already beginning to seem very familiar to those who had seen Thursday night’s opener. Three quarters of Blaugrana domination, followed by a spirited but ultimately fruitless Bilbao resurgence. When Navarro made it 62-54 with just under 3 minutes left, it looked like Barcelona would breach the finishing tape just about holding off their challengers at arm’s length. But ‘Los Hombres’ have no concept of when they are beaten, and Kostas Vasileiadis hit two incredible back to back triples, the second over Vazquez, either side of a crucial bucket by Lorbek, with the score now 64-60, 1:59 on the clock, and the stunning conclusion that eluded them was now absolutely possible.
Navarro throws the dagger
For a few seconds anyway. With the cruel, almost spiteful manner of the prom queen who toys with the town nerd, Barcelona yanked away the prospect of a comeback, in the game and probably the series. Lorbek hit a three – 67-70. At the other end, Josh Fisher misfired, then what may end being the standout 20 seconds of the series. Navarro brought the ball up, dribbling around the left side of the arc. He ignored Victor Sada, standing lonely in the corner, waving off all help. The shot clock ticked down. Bouncing from side to side. 4 seconds to shoot. Pull up rainbow from 26ft on the left wing, over a desperate Vasileiadis…. swish. 10 point game. All done. The final minute played itself out and Barcelona sealed the 74-67 win, a delirious home crowd basking in the realisation that no matter how tenacious and hard working their opponents, they are the ones who have La Bomba.
Bilbao once again came up short with a fourth quarter comeback. In Game 1, it was a 20+ point game by Lorbek that killed them, this time it was Navarro. Again, looking ahead to the series moving to Bilbao, the final period will give them hope that they are capable of matching Barcelona, but these revivals are useless if they are consistently down by double digits going into the fourth. Aaron Jackson has been consistently shackled, and Josh Fisher was on the floor down the stretch. Bilbao probably cannot win if he is unable to contribute at all. Navarro was actually only 1/5 from 2pt range, but 3/8 from three and 9/10 at the line. Vazquez’s 8 points were all dunks, and in a close game, those points matter. Janis Blums and Kostas Vasileiadis at least scored in double figures, but Blums’ 15 points came on 13 shot attempts. Chris Warren was held scoreless. Bilbao won the rebounding battle but did little with their 10 first half offensive boards. This game could have gone either way heading into the last two minutes, but the way it ended up, is probably a good indication of the way the series will be concluded.