Real Madrid started another Turkish Airlines EuroLeague campaign with a strong core of players who have been together for many years, coached by Pablo Laso. Several months later, Real is in the playoffs after fighting more adversities perhaps than ever before. Los Blancos showed their character and will now fight for another Final Four berth.
Real got off to a slow start, losing four of its first five games. After a 79-72 defeat at the hands of archrival FC Barcelona at Palau Blaugrana, Real started to bounce back. In Round 6, Real downed FC Bayern Munich 100-82 behind 19 points from Jaycee Carroll. Los Blancos went on to beat Zalgiris Kaunas 90-93 behind an outstanding Walter Tavares and Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade 67-73.
Two convincing home victories over Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens capped a five-game winning streak. However, upheaval was around the corner as starting point guard Facu Campazo left the team. Three weeks later, halfway through a home victory against Zenit St Petersburg, forward Anthony Randolph left the court with a season-ending injury.
Real showed great resilience and kept going, registering three road victories in December to fuel a six-game winning streak. It defeated Panathinaikos 93-97 in double overtime behind Alberto Abalde's late heroics. Three days later, Real bested another Greek powerhouse, Olympiacos Piraeus, as Nico Laprovittola led the team to an 82-86 overtime victory. Real also topped Anadolu Efes Istanbul, which would become its playoff opponents, 65-73 with 15 points from Fabien Causeur.
The team kept battling injuries, as two of its most experienced players, Sergio Llull and Rudy Fernandez, missed significant time. Only three Real players - Tavares, Abalde and Usman Garuba - have taken part in all 34 EuroLeague games until now. Real went on to win only one of its next four games, but back-to-back victories against Panathinaikos, 76-66, and ALBA Berlin, 63-72, kept Coach Laso's squad on the right track. Tavares got plenty of help inside, as experienced big man Alex Tyus joined the team with a backup role.
The second half of Real's regular season has plenty of ups and downs. It lost six games at home, but became more consistent on the road. An unexpected road loss against end-of-the-table Khimki Moscow Region and back-to-back home defeats against Barcelona and CSKA Moscow put Real in a tough situation.
However, Real delivered when it needed it most. In Round 31, Real defeated LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne 71-74 behind 13 points from Trey Thompkins. Despite following that big win with a 25-point home loss against Efes, Real did what has done all season: bounce back in style. Los Blancos downed Olympiacos 72-63 to improve their chances to be in the playoffs.
Real needed to beat Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul at Ulker Sports and Event Hall and left no doubt about its power. With Llull and Fernandez back in action, Real thrashed Fenerbahce 67-93 to make it to the playoffs. Causeur came off the bench to lead his team with 20 points. Laprovittola had 18 points and 10 assists for his second-ever EuroLeague double-double. Real made a club-record 19 three-point shots.
Real is now set to face Efes in the playoffs without the home-court advantage. Real's obstacle course continues, as Deck is not with the team anymore. Even so, Real has many experienced players who have fought and won together in similar circumstances. Expect Real to be loyal to its history and style; Coach Laso's men will fight hard to upset Efes and get to the 2021 Final Four.