The footballing stars of FC Barcelona jetted into Paris to lend their support to their basketballing brothers on Sunday and they can only have left feeling a touch of envy. This year, they will not be the ones delivering a European crown back to the Camp Nou.
El Barca Basquet may rank down the pecking order within their own club but for this night at least, they stole the spotlight with a dominating display against Olympiakos at a sold-out and noisy Bercy, bringing the Euroleague title back to Catalunya for only the second time with a resounding 86-68 victory over their Greek rivals.
Inspired and impregnable, it was no less than they deserved.
Juan Carlos Navarro found defeat in last year’s semi-finals hard to swallow but the former Memphis Grizzlies guard drove the Spaniards with his will from the very outset, scoring a game-high 21 points – claiming the Most Valuable Player award.
Up 28-19 at the end of the first quarter, Barcelona rewarded their vast travelling hordes with a punishing run in the second. Ricky Rubio converted a rebound to open a 43-30 lead with 2.23 remaining and there was little sign that the onslaught would stop.
Barcelona are 18-1 this season when leading at half-time. 47-36 ahead when the interval allowed Olympiakos to regroup, Xavi Pascual’s men were determined to silence the drummer who stood at the heart of the passionate Red Army from Pireaus.
Josh Childress converted from long-range to cut the deficit to 52-47 but Barca did not wilt, patiently looking for openings inside and out.
Olympiakos star Theo Papaloukas shook his head in frustration. His team’s billionaire owners have spent a fortune on their squad but money cannot buy a title. And although Barca are the Euroleague’s best offensive side, they diligently kept up the pressure on the league’s newly-crowned MVP Milos Teodosic, leaving nothing to chance.
The 64-50 cushion at the start of the fourth looked enough and when Rubio converted the opening possession off a steal, a sense of desperation swept over the Greeks play.
With seven minutes left, Boniface Ndong produced a huge block at one end and then Pete Mickael hit an off-balance jumper at the other.
Throw whatever you want at us and we’ll take it, Barca said. An army of blue and purple soldiers, bouncing up and down in unison, roared their approval. When Terrence Morris then drained a three to make it 71-52 with 5.44 left, it felt inevitable. Even the drummer stopped, his head bowed in dejection.
Navarro, the sole survivor from the Catalan’s 2003 Euroleague triumph, took charge as Olympiakos resorted to desperate fouling. Their press was quickly broken. Their resolve followed suit.
Linas Kleiza, who hit 13 points fouled out with 1.23 when he was called for an unsportsmanlike infraction on Navarro.
Both foul shots were converted to make it 80-65. The chants of ‘M-V-P’ began as Barcelona’s players and fans began to celebrate in unison, Rubio carried aloft on the shoulders Fran Vazquez as he cut down the nets.
It will surely not be his last title. Barcelona will enjoy this for a while yet.
Earlier, CSKA Moscow won a thrilling overtime tie 90-88 against Partizan Belgrade in the third place play-off. However, Great Britain forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu remained on the bench throughout, continuing his unsatisfactory stint with the Russians, who begin their domestic play-offs next weekend.