By Antonis Stroggylakis/ AStroggylakis@eurohoops.net
Sarunas Jasikevicius was pleased and looked relatively calm during the first half of the game between Barcelona and Olympiacos Piraeus. The Blaugrana were performing solid team basketball with nearly all of their 40 points at halftime being a result of assists and pretty, machine-like ball movement. On the other end, the team’s defense had allowed just 30 points by the Reds.
Everything changed a couple of minutes into the second half. Olympiacos launched a successful comeback and ended up evaporating a 12-point deficit to turn it into lead of their own. Saras’ content at the break turned into frustration: Shouting at Brandon Davies for not positioning himself right – according to guidelines set by the pregame scouting – on offense and being mad at Sergi Martinez for going way too aggressive on his close-out defense against slashing master Shaq McKissic.
“He had every right to be [angry],” Barcelona guard Cory Higgins told Eurohoops. “That’s what you get from Saras. He’s going to be demanding but at the same time he just wants the best out of every player. As a player, you have to respect that.”
Olympiacos went up by five points in the fourth period but Barcelona eventually emerged victorious 76 – 74 in a dramatic finale thanks to Higgins draining a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining. He and his teammates needed the roadkill to also get a form of a “payback” after the Reds beat them at their home in the regular season’s first-leg game.
“We definitely wanted to have a better performance today,” Higgins said. His contribution to the win came with 14 points on 5-9 shots plus four assists, apart from the go-ahead free throws. “So we came out very focused. We let things slip in the third quarter and let their physicality get to us. Let it get us out of rhythm. It’s always tough to win here anyway and right now every win is important so it’s a big one for us.”
“We knew it’s going to be grind-out game. Especially when they came back into it. We just had to stay together. That’s what I tried to keep telling the team. Stay together and grind it out. Thankfully, it went my way at the end of the game,” Higgins added.
Thanks to this victory, Barcelona improved to 17 – 6 to remain the leader on the EuroLeague standings. Higgins, who’s averaging 12.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 rebounds this season, attributes a large part of the team’s winning run to Saras bringing a mentality that puts the “Us” in front of any “Me”.
“I think we are together another year, so that’s big,” Higgins said. “With Saras, it’s always about big family atmosphere. Everybody being together: ‘team first, team-first, team-first’. That’s big and I think that’s really going to pay dividends for us going along.”