FC Barcelona entered its Round 28 home game against TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz with enough motivation to make an already special night even better.
First, star forward Nikola Mirotic played his 100th game in the club’s jersey. Second, it was Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius’s 45th birthday and his players wanted to give him the best present, a win that would give the team one foot in the playoffs.
Things started very well for Barcelona as Baskonia missed almost everything it shot in the first 20 offenses, making just 1 of 15 shots while picking up 5 turnovers. Mirotic and Cory Higgins combined for 11 points in an 18-2 opening run that seemed to put Barcelona well on the way to its 20th win.
Things looked even worse for Baskonia at the end of the first quarter. Baskonia’s 4 first-quarter points were an all-time low in its 513-game EuroLeague run. It previously scored 6 first-quarter points three times. Its 21-point deficit at quarter’s end was also its highest in the EuroLeague.
Instead of giving up, however, Baskonia chose to be loyal to its trademark character and fought back. Youssoupha Fall and Pierria Henry fueled a 0-16 run that brought their team back in the game. Rokas Giedraitis tied the game, 40-40, soon after the break. But just when Baskonia seemed to be ready to challenge for its sixth consecutive EuroLeague victory, Barcelona fought back.
Barcelona found answers on defense again, limiting Baskonia to just 17 points in the final 14 minutes. One player who stood out at both ends was former Baskonia regular Adam Hanga, a do-it-all swingman who stepped up big in crunch time with a decisive play that changed the game’s momentum for good: a show-stopping one-handed put-back slam full of energy.
“It has been a while since I had a dunk!” Hanga admitted after the game.
Hanga soon added a three-pointer and, after Kyle Kuric downed a five-meter jumper, Cory Higgins and Nikola Mirotic each struck from downtown to seal the outcome, 65-54, with 3 minutes left. Three-pointers, indeed, made the difference all game long. Barcelona hit 9 of 21 shots from the arc (42.9%) while Baskonia could hit just 4 of 15 (26.7%).
Jasikevicius was worried about something else after the game: turnovers. “We have to start to think of how we can lower the number of turnovers we are having. I think that a team with our talent cannot pick up more than 15 turnovers per game. These days, we had 19 and 18. That’s 19 and 18 times that we didn’t shoot the ball,” he said. “We have important offensive talent, but if we don’t shoot the ball at the basket, we will never score.”
Mirotic, who finished the game with game-highs of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 26 PIR, was content with the win on such a special night.
“Every win is very important and, obviously, being my 100th game with Barcelona, is amazing. I am very thankful and blessed to be here, and to be honest, I am really enjoying every game,” Mirotic said. “It has been a great moment for me and also for my family here in Barcelona.”
Barcelona should qualify to the playoffs with its next win. It has a five-win gap over ninth-ranked Zalgiris Kaunas and a 2-0 record against the Lithuanian powerhouse. Moreover, Pau Gasol is already in Barcelona and should start practicing with the team soon. Barcelona should need all the help it can get in a demanding regular season finish with four road games in the next five rounds, starting with El Clásico against Real Madrid next week and a battle against third-ranked AX Armani Exchange Milan in Round 30.
Seen at: Euroleague.net