Caja Laboral One Win Away From Historic Upset
Well, we did predict a sweep in this series.... Caja Laboral is up 2-0 on FC Barcelona in the best-of-five ACB Finals series in the Spanish League. Not hyperbole to say this is a stunning development.
As the road team, Caja Laboral won Game 1, 63-58, and held on for a 70-69 win in Game 2. Barcelona had not lost a game at home since January. January of 2009. An ACB title would have solidified Barcelona's standing as one of the best European teams ever. Now Barca's dream season is circling the drain.
The series shifts to Vitoria, where Caja has two chances at home to pull off the improbable upset. Game 3 is slated for 2:30 est on Tuesday, Game 4 on Thursday, if necessary, both available online through ACB.com.
Barca came into this series winning 36 of its 39 ACB games this season (Barca beat Unicaja 3-0 in the semis after sweeping Gran Canaria in the quarters). Barca finished their Euroleague campaign with a 20-2 record.
Barca was such an overwhelming fave that Caja just winning one game was unlikely. It's not just that Barcelona was a combined 56-5 before the finals, it was the fact they dominated their competition throughout Europe all year--basically outscoring their opponents by an average of +15 ppg.
The main reason the script is flipped in this series has to be Caja's defensive play. Barca's pick/roll action has been smothered, the help and recovery has been textbook and it seems as if every shot by Barca has been contested. Also, they've done a nice job defending JC Navarro off the phalanx of screens run for him. They're doing the same things they did in the semis vs. Real Madrid. Just surprised the defense is having the same effect on Barca.
Barca has shot only 38% from the floor in both games. Barca averaged 80 ppg on 50% during the ACB regular season. Also, Barca is struggling from long range partly because of Caja's close-out ability. Only 13-for-47 (28%) from deep after hitting 38% of their 3PA in the reg. season.
In both games, Barca had a lead of at least seven points late in the 3rd, but Caja's strong defense never let Barca pull away. And Caja's offense found ways to execute down the stretch, while Barca came up empty. Barca really rushed things on offense in both games ending up with costly TOs or forced shots. You wonder if Barca reacted poorly because they are not used to having to pull games out in the final minutes.
In Game 2, Tiago Splitter was not much of a factor on the offensive end (4 pts) but once again was a deterrent defensively. Changed plenty of Barca shots and was terrific on pick/rolls as usual. Tiago was strong in Game 1 with 14 pts and a few nice post moves.
In Game 2, Brad Oleson did a great job getting around screens to cut off Navarro's space all game. Caja would jump hard on Navarro ball screens with a big, then would scurry to help the helper. Caja has done a tremendous job making Navarro work extremely hard to get open looks in both games. Navarro only managed to get up four shots in Game 2 to finish with four points. Navarro put up 17 pts in Game 1 but did it on 5-for-15 shooting.
Ricky Rubio's pattern of uneven play this season has continued in this series. Ricky was a total non-factor in Game 1. Only has two assists total in both games and is 1-for-7 from the 3pt. arc. Actually liked Rubio's aggression on offense in Game 2--seemed to be visibly amped up from the start. Made three tough, determined drives to score his six points. Ricky has tried to push the ball but Caja's transition defense has been superb.
Rubio can't consistently probe the defense because of Splitter's presence, not to mention Marcelinho Huertas' relentless ball pressure. Huertas' active on-ball defense has been effective, like it was in the semis vs. Real.
Huertas usually looks to get his teammates the ball before looking for his own shot, but he has been providing a key scoring pop in this series. Huertas put up 11 pts in Game 1 and 13 pts in Game 2. Also, in both games, Huertas hit huge pull-up 3pters. late in the 4th that gave Caja two-possession leads.
Fernando San Emeterio has helped with some big baskets of his own (10 pts in Game 1, 19 pts in Game 2). The Caja SF has provided scoring on post-ups, drives and jumpers. Hit a couple big 3pts. in the 2nd half in Game 2 and converted a crucial drive off a high pick/roll to give Caja the lead for good with 3:40 remaining.
We understand Celts-Lakers takes priority for many in our audience on Tuesday. But if you have some free time before Game 6, check out Game 3 of the ACB Finals on acb.com live (2:30 est) or on replay (revivelo).