FC Barcelona had to wait longer than ever to return to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four and after a long, exciting series against Zenit St Petersburg, the Blaugrana can celebrate a spot at the end-of-season event in Cologne, Germany. It did so with great authority, winning all four quarters in Game 5 on its way to a no-doubt-about-it 79-53 victory. Zenit had a bitter end to an otherwise fantastic EuroLeague season, but Barcelona gave the Russian powerhouse no chance at Palau Blaugrana.
"I think we had an excellent season in the EuroLeague and of course, now that we were in this situation, we wanted to win but obviously, Barcelona is better than us," Zenit coach Xavi Pascual said after the game. "They have more quality, more experience, more physicality, more everything, and it was obvious tonight."
This marks Barcelona's 15th time reaching the Final Four since the format was adopted in 1988. Never before had Barcelona gone more than three years without a Final Four appearance. It now returns seven years later with Pau Gasol, who will get a second shot to win the competition in its signature event.
Gasol played at the 2000 EuroLeague Final Four in Thessaloniki, Greece, and has another shot to lift the trophy for the first time. On Tuesday, Gasol played his best EuroLeague game since he returned to Barcelona and did it at the most decisive moment. He finished the game with 7 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals for a PIR of 16. Gasol also had 4 blocks, which matched the EuroLeague Playoffs record shared by 10 players and tied most recently by Jan Vesely of Fenerbahce Istanbul in 2017. The last Barcelona player to reject 4 shots in a playoff game was Gregor Fucka against Real Madrid in April 2006.
"We didn't understand; we thought we were signing Gasol, but we signed Mutombo at some point of the game, you know?" Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius joked after the game. "For sure, this is something to understand for the players, how difficult it is to go to the Final Four. But at the same time, a club like Barcelona has to be there more times and this is what we will try to do. We will try to build something here and hopefully, we can make it more years in a row."
Gasol helped Barcelona finish the game with 9 blocks, which matched the club's playoff record. Barcelona previously had 9 blocks against Real Madrid on April 4, 2006. It tied the second-best mark in playoff history; Real also had 9 blocks against Maccabi Tel Aviv on April 12, 2013. Fortitudo Bologna had 11 blocks against Cibona Zagreb on February 8, 2001; Stojan Vrankovic had 10 of those, which is still a EuroLeague record.
"This is the type of effort that it is going to take from now on. I think we have to understand that every game is going to be final, it is going to be the same approach," Gasol said after the game. "Today, it was a good step forwards for me. I had a good week practicing, had a couple of good weeks practicing, and I just want to continue to feel better, getting in better shape so I can help more and contribute like I did today."
Jasikevicius already made Final Four history as a player, becoming the first - and to date only - player to win the EuroLeague with three different teams - Barcelona, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos Athens. Kyle Hines and Sergio Rodriguez of AX Amrnai Exchange have a chance to join Jasikevicius in this exclusive club. Saras can become the fourth person to win the EuroLeague as a player and coach. Only Armenak Alachachan, Lolo Sainz and Stevislav Pesic have managed to do that, but none of them won both titles in the Final Four era.
Barcelona is now set to take on Milan in the EuroLeague Semifinals at Lanxess Arena in Cologne on Friday, May 28.