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For the second year running, Barça have missed out on the Euroleague and the final hurdle. After losing to Real Madrid 67-74 in the semi-final of the Final Four in London they will not be able to battle for their third European crown. Xavi Pascual’s side squandered a nine-point lead in the final period and ended up succumbing to a Madrid team led by Felipe Reyes with 17 points. Meanwhile, a colossal Ante Tomic proved insufficient for Barça.
Barça Regal started superbly. They entered the O2 Arena with no signs of fear and immediately gave it everything they had. First Ante Tomic and then Juan Carlos Navarro showed the way ahead in such an important game as this. It went to 9-3 following a three for the FCB captain, and the Catalans led 18-11 at the end of the first period on the back of aggressive defending and defiantly refusing to allow Madrid any easy baskets.
But after their initial errors, Pablo Laso’s side soon pulled their act together. Sergio Llull converted two consecutive 3-pointers to get Madrid back to 23-22 and the kind of rhythm Madrid were imposing was exactly the one Barça Regal didn’t need. It was now the all-whites that were in command, and a three from Sergio Rodríguez finally swung the game in their favour (26-27, min 17).
Despite Tomic coming to Barcelona’s rescue, in the blink of an eyelid, Madrid had gone four-up with two minutes of the half remaining (29-33). And there was more to come, for Madrid ended the half six ahead, a tough situation for Barça, who were losing it on defensive rebounds.
But from 33-41 early in the second it was soon 42-42 after a Huertas three and a small-dunk from a majestic Tomic. The 9-1 streak got the momentum back on Barça’s side, with their 3-2 defence causing all kinds of headaches for Pablo Laso’s offensive plans. It was then that Nate Jawai came on to battle though the pain barrier and offer some moments of quality and some rest for Tomic. He collected two fouls, and then the Croatian centre was sent back to work.
Barça admirably battled on, never letting their concentration drop, and it was eventually Marcelinho Huertas, with five straight points, who got Barça Regal three points ahead at the end of the third period (51-48).
The final period got off to the perfect start for Barça. Jasikevicius and Ingles came on and Barça’s lead was further extended to nine points, 61-52, and victory was in sight. Madrid had to go for it, and they did, big time. Much to the Barça faithful’s astonishment, a 0-7 streak suddenly got the difference back down to two. The nerves set into the Barça players for the first time, and with that came mistakes. Two free throws from Reyes put Madrid back in front (63-65).
The final minutes saw the game slipping away from Barcelona in frustrating fashion. Madrid once again controlled the offensive rebounds and Barça simply lost their way. Shockingly, the game had swung from 61-52 to 63-69. A balance of 2-17 in less than five minutes simply would not do, and Barça paid the price. For the second season in a row, they have missed out on the Euroleague finals by one match, and it will be their rivals Real Madrid who will be contesting the continental title with Olympiakos of Greece on Sunday night (67-74).
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