Playing with a home crowd behind at the Euroleague Final Four meant that Real Madrid were going to be energised and playing with tempo in the second semi-final of the evening. However, while there were positive elements to playing in your home city with your fans behind you, there would also have been a great deal of pressure and expectation placed on the Madrid side. Some teams wilt under this pressure but at the end of the Friday night action, Real Madrid were looking forward to their third Euroleague Championship game in a row.
The 96-87 win over Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul looks as though it was comfortable, but if it was, it was only down to the fact that Madrid worked extremely hard. If the crowd were behind the home team, it was down to the fact that they were given plenty of encouragement by the team and it has to be said that Real Madrid were dominant in the second quarter. The fact that this is the third Championship game in a row that Madrid have contested indicates that they are a team of consistency, strength and skill, but now the question will turn to whether they have the bottle or nerve to see the job through. The home crowd will help at the start, providing impetus to Madrid, but if Olympiacos Piraeus can frustrate the home fans and set the rhythm, it could turn into a long evening for Los Blancos.
Gustavo Ayon lit up the semi-final
That can wait until Sunday though and for now, the strength of the semi-final victory needs to be reflected upon. Gustavo Ayon had a starring role for the home team and what a time to pick up a season high of 18 points. When you add in the fact that Ayon also offered up 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals, it is fair to say that he was at the heart of a lot of what was good for the home team in this game.
KC Rivers provided 16 points, which included 5 from 6 three point shots, with the team equalling the record for three pointers in the Final Four, with 14 in total. Sergio Rodriguez provided 13 points and 7 assists while Sergio Lull offered up 12 points and 9 assists. There was also 12 points from Andres Nocioni and Rudy Fernandez. The fact that Madrid had a number of big scorers throughout their team indicates that this was a strong squad performance from the Spanish side.
The top scorer on the night was Andrew Goudelock, who provided 26 points, an excellent haul considering this was the first Final Four game the player had been involved in. Bogdan Bogdanovic followed up receiving his Rising Star award by grabbing 12 points and Nemanja Bjelica, the Euroleague MVP, offered 11 points before he was fouled out.
Madrid were in control from the second quarter
It was a close game in the opening quarter but a 14-2 run at the beginning of the second quarter put Madrid in charge, with a 61-35 lead at the start of the second ensuring that the home side would be comfortable for the rest of the game. It is not as though Fenerbahce threw the towel in, they pulled the gap back to 10 with 2 minutes left on the clock, but they never looked like seriously hauling the Spanish side back.
The home fans at the Final Four breathed a sigh of relief and their dream of clinching the Euroleague Championship in their own city is still alive. Fenerbahce need to dust themselves down and give themselves a chance of grabbing third place but Real Madrid should rest up on Saturday and get ready for their best opportunity to win the Euroleague on Sunday.