By Stefan Djordjevic/ email@example.com
Real Madrid was severely hit by a coronavirus wave, basically sidelining half of the roster, but the Whites still stepped on the court against CSKA Moscow and made a sensation with a 71-65 home win in Turkish Airlines Euroleague.
Adam Hanga, Thomas Heurtel, Fabien Causeur, Vincent Poirier, Guerschon Yabusele, Anthony Randolph, Juan Nunez, and head coach Pablo Laso all contracted COVID-19 and Real Madrid also couldn’t count on Trey Thompkins, Carlos Alocen, and Alberto Abalde who were injured previously.
Nonetheless, Nigel Williams-Goss, Walter Tavares, Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernandez, and Jeffery Taylor plus younger senior team members Tristan Vukcevic, Sediq Garuba, Urban Klavzar, and Baba Miller stepped up to the occasion and delivered a class in character.
Remember the names
It should be noted that the latter three of the youngsters logged their first minutes in Euroleague. CSKA coach Dimitris Itoudis, while disappointed with his team, made sure to give props to the opposition, especially the youngsters.
“The outcome proved what you just said. We did not come here relaxed, we were aware of the situation, we’ve been in such a situation also. Against Barcelona when were missing players, or Olympiacos, even fewer players. Favorite or not, we were aware but the unwritten rule prevailed. And the players they played, Klavzar and Garuba, had a great game. We better remember those names,” he told Eurohoops’ Alex Madrid at the post-game press conference.
Coach Chus Mateo used all nine of his players on the bench. Williams-Goss was the main scorer with 17 points while Tavares added 15 points, ten rebounds, and four blocks. Llull scored ten but so did the 17-year-old Slovenian prospect Klavzar who banked in two big three-pointers as well.
“It was going to be a challenge for the team. We just fought, we believed, and I think the first quarter set the tone. We came out aggressive and it set the tone that we were here to play and trying to win. I’m happy for the young guys and the coach did an incredible job stepping in, a great team effort. [Message for the missing players] We stepped up for you guys, we hope you guys are resting up, most important you guys stay healthy, and Hala Madrid!”, Williams-Goss said.
On CSKA’s side, Will Clyburn scored 16 (13 boards) and Nikola Milutinov 13 points (ten boards).
Instilling fear into the opponent
The Whites opened up the game with a barrage of dunks and three-pointers as they went ahead 17-3, showing they came ready to play. However, CSKA was the team leading at halftime (40-37), after a 14-2 run.
At that point, it seemed as though Real Madrid’s squad got tired and wouldn’t be able to hold on but they proved otherwise with a 12-0 run (65-55) which was sparked by Llull’s triple at the end of the third quarter.
And that was enough distance for the hosts to close off the game and secure a well-deserved win against a CSKA team that perhaps underestimated the weakened opponent and just couldn’t recover from the initial shock, clearly not being fully focused, lacking idea, missing many open shots and not being able to contain the fiery Madridistas, especially flailing in the initial one-on-one offense.
With this outcome in Round 17, Real Madrid stayed in the second spot with the improved 14-3 record while CSKA is currently at number seven with 10-7.
Coach Mateo was very happy with the hustle of his players but also with the smartness and calmness they showed at all stages of the game.
“We had a lift in the end. We knew it was very difficult to win today because the week was very weird. But we did it. I’m very proud of my players, it’s amazing how they fight until the end, and I’m very happy for the fans because they were with us until the end. They know that they have to be useful for the team and they tried their best, played with a big heart, used fouls when they had to do it, and played very smart even though they are very young. We are working very well with young players and it’s a great happiness for everybody at Real Madrid.”