ACB Finals Preview: Barcelona vs. Caja Laboral
The best-of-five series to determine the best team in Spain begins on Thursday in Barcelona (2:30 est). You can watch each game on acb.com live or on replay. After taking home the Euroleague title a month ago, Barca would like to add a Spanish League finals trophy to their display case and put the finishing touches on one of the most dominating seasons in professional basketball history.
Tiago Splitter and his Caja Laboral teammates are major underdogs in this series and even winning a game would be a chore. Barca is just a level above every team in Europe. We've broken down Barcelona multiple times this year (here, here, here, here) so no reason to say much more. Basically, they're real good. Hard to identify any weaknesses with this squad.
Barca is currently 36-3 overall in the ACB with a whopping +16 ppg point differential. Since their last loss to Lagun Aro GBC (only double-digit loss all season), Barca is 9-0 in ACB action. winning every game by at least 10. Barca finished their Euroleague campaign with a 20-2 record and 14.6 ppg scoring margin. Simply, one of the best teams ever in Europe. If Caja wins this series, it would be a stunning upset.
Barca had a fairly easy time beating Unicaja 3-0 in the semis after sweeping Gran Canaria in the quarters. Barca has won each of their five playoff games by at least double-digits. Juan Navarro has led the way with Pete Mickeal, Erazem Lorbek and Terrence Morris also playing strong ball in the playoffs.
Caja Laboral is coming off a very competitive semifinal series where they knocked off a deeper Real Madrid team 3-2. Caja's defense was solid vs. Real, often forcing them to shots late in the shot clock and consistently challenging shots. Splitter was excellent throughout the series on both ends of the floor and his post-season play has solidified his status as the best all-around big outside the NBA.
Caja's main objective is to feed the ball to Tiago. Splitter will often peel-n-seal into post-ups off of rolls or cuts. Tiago is adept at finishing off of rolls as well. His righty hook has been effective this season and Tiago can finish with his left hand as well.
Good footwork gets him quality looks around the bucket. His touch can be dodgy but it seems to be more hit than miss these days. Sometimes his post-up attempts look fluid, other times his scoring attempts look ragged--kinda like Dwight Howard. His shooting stroke is still not easy on the eyes and his touch remains his main flaw. His shot comes off flat which is a factor in below-average free throw shooting.
We have mentioned Splitter's strong passing skills before but we feel it necessary to reiterate what a terrific passer he has become. Not to mention, Tiago can make passes off the move and delivers the ball quickly when he sees an open teammate.
His lateral movement on the defensive end is as good as any big in the NBA. Does a nice job defending pick/roll and does a good job when switched onto guards. Not to mention, he runs the floor hard.
Barca will try to focus their defensive gameplan on limiting Splitter. Intriguing matchup between Splitter and Lorbek, two of finest centers outside the NBA. Boniface NDong and Fran Vazquez could see some time checking Tiago, and sure the superb help defense of Barca will shifted in his direction.
Caja Laboral has the good fortune of having one of the best the four-spreaders (stretch-4) in Europe--Mirza Teletovic--next to Tiago on the frontline. The 6-9 Bosnian (a possible NBA prospect) has sharpshooting skills to keep Barca's help honest.
Lefty shooting guard Brad Oleson can knock down jumpers and hit big shots vs. Real. Caja will look to free Oleson and Teletovic off of screens when they want to take the focus off of Splitter.
PG Marcelino Huertas is a pesky on-ball defender whose ball pressure was effective vs. Real. Will be interesting to see if he can disrupt Rubio's rhythm in the finals. SF Fernando San Emeterio is crafty finding his way to the hoop and will take some of the playmaking burden off of Huertas on occasion.
Carl English gives Caja some scoring pop off the bench but could be limited as he's trying to work his way back from a rib injury. Walter Herrmann and Lior Eliyahu (Rockets hold rights) provide Caja with two active combo forwards off the bench. Caja could really use Stanko Barac (Pacers property) to help Splitter upfront in this series. Stanko gave Barca problems in the regular season but won't go in the finals because of injury.
We're picking Barcelona in 3. It's not like Caja is a mediocre team, they're actually quite impressive. It's just Barcelona is nearly flawless, one of the best units Europe has ever seen.