Real Madrid was dealt some bad news on the eve of its home meeting with Bitci Baskonia-Vitoria Gasteiz on Friday night, as giant center Walter Tavares was ruled out of the game after receiving a positive test for COVID-19.
As Tavares has been the second best player in the competition so far this season, with an average PIR of 19.8, you might think he would be badly missed in the all-Spanish duel. But that wasn’t the case at all, as Real proceeded to dominate the battle inside the paint by showing phenomenal frontcourt depth – in large part thanks to the return of two established stars who have been out of action for a long time.
This was the third game back for Anthony Randolph, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon against Olympiacos Piraeus last December and did not play again for nearly a year until making his comeback against ALBA Berlin in Round 15. And on Friday night the 33 year-old looked as good as ever, bagging a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds, including 6 offensive boards to help his team win the rebounding battle 42-25.
Randolph downplayed his contribution after the game, insisting there is still a lot more to come as he said: “I still have to get in shape, that’s the biggest thing. I’m taking it day by day. There’s going to be ups and downs but I’m going to keep working and hopefully get to where I was last season.”
Another veteran star whose return to action is further bolstering Real’s already strong challenge is Trey Thompkins, who saw his first EuroLeague action of the season on Friday night after being ruled out since last May with a knee injury. Like Randolph, Thompkins delivered the goods on Friday night as he scored 10 points on 4-of-7 field goal shooting and dished 2 assists in 13 minutes on the floor.
He was understandably overjoyed to be back in action, saying: "I feel great. I'm just tired! I've got to get my energy back up because games are different from practice or work-outs. But it'll come, I'm happy. It's the toughest thing in the world to not be with the guys, fighting with them on a daily basis and going on trips, things like that. It's really, really good for me to be back. I'm going to work as hard as I can to get back to what I feel like is myself, and contribute as much as I can to help these guys."
Getting back Randolph and Thompkins – who have combined for 276 EuroLeague appearances for the club – is great news for Los Blancos, which has managed to keep in great shape even without them: Real is technically top of the standings right now, one win behind arch-rival FC Barcelona but with two games in hand following COVID-related postponements.
And with the veteran duo set to keep on getting better and better as they regain game fitness, it looks very much like Pablo Laso's men will be tough to beat over the coming weeks.