Juan Carlos Navarro again led Barcelona with 16 points, and after the game was named Finals MVP. The first two games were characterised by Barcelona speeding into the lead, only for fourth quarter comebacks by Bilbao that fell short, particularly in Game 2. The series switched to the Mirabilla and ‘Los Hombres de Negro’ were actually back in black uniforms, but those were not the only changes. Bilbao were competitive throughout and pushed the eventual champions all the way.
The home crowd was intense and responsive, desperate for their team to at least make the Catalans have to come back and face the wall of noise again. If it was noisy pre-game, an Alex Mumbru ‘and one’ that gave the home team a 5-2 lead turned the levels up even louder – it was the first time in the three games they had grabbed even a small bit of momentum from the first tip.
Mumbru with early momentum
Mumbru carried the load early, with 9 points in the first eight minutes, scoring from the post, the jumpshot and off the dribble. Alan Anderson picked up two early fouls and things looked especially good for Bilbao when a Josh Fisher three put them up by 19-12, their largest lead of the series.
The second quarter was a different story though, at least compared to the ten minutes previous. The period bore a striking resemblence to others in the first two games in which the Barcelona defense stepped up and prevented Bilbao from scoring. An 6-0 run for Barcelona saw them cut the lead to 1, and Boniface NDong’s 7 points in the period saw the Blaugrana inch ahead at the break at 30-29.
Despite letting the lead slip, it was the first time that Bilbao had begun the second half with virtual parity with their opponents. An 11-4 run including 5 straight points by Navarro saw Barca stretch the gap to eight points at 41-33 but a pair of buckets from Jackson, including a beautiful, Dream-Shake like move in the post kept Bilbao in touch, and brought the crowd back into vociferous form, and Bilbao played the period to a tie, trailing by 1 going into the final quarter.
Bilbao fall just short
After a Marko Banic putback put them up by 51-50, Bilbao would only score 4 more points in the remaining 7 minutes, as Barca eased in front for good. The conclusion to the game, and the series, was something of an anti-climax, as this entertaining, spirited game had openly promised a denouement in the final seconds, and the effort and relentless motion of the Bilbao players deserved at least that. Had Marko Banic made an elbow jumper at 55-60 with just over a minute to go, perhaps the outcome would have been different, but the ball clanged off the rim, and with it the chances of extending the series.
Navarro took the MVP award, and in a short series without one single dominant player, he probably deserved it for style over statistical substance. He didn’t have one great shooting night in any of the three games, needing 13 shots for his 20 on Saturday night, and shooting 5/16 for 16 points tonight, but he top scored in two of the three games and the instant memory of this series will be the three he hoisted over Kostas Vasileiadis to seal the win in Game 2.
Fotis Katsikaris will surely be disappointed his team couldn’t put together four quarters of dominant basketball, but in truth, they only had four in the series (the final period of each of the first two games and the first and third in this one). However, they will be playing in the Euroleague next season and have managed to keep hold of Aaron Jackson for the campaign, also bolstering the point guard position with Raul Lopez. A floor spacing big man would be the next priority, in addition to a wing who can score off the dribble, but the future looks bright in Bilbao.
Barcelona have already started down the road of re-modelling an ageing roster, signing Chuck Eidson (OK, so not that much of a youth movement) and were rumoured to be trying to sign Joel Freeland, although that move appears to have broken down. Ricky Rubio is probably off to Minnesota (barring an NBA lockout) and Fran Vazquez may follow him to North America. With Pete Mickael re-signed, Alan Anderson is likely on his way out, so it is very likely to be a different group of players, albeit still focused around Navarro, that Coach Pascual takes into battle next season. Having just finished the ACB playoffs with a 100% record, the rest of Europe could be in trouble if this team drastically improves.