Papanikolaou v Madrid.

Papanikolao v Madrid. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.

The dress rehearsal for the Final Four in Milan, at a full Palau Blaugrana, ended in a triumphant victory for a Barça team that outplayed Real Madrid. In the third-from-last game of the regular season of the Liga Endesa, the men managed by Xavi Pascual defeated Los Blancos for the first time this season. A great start thanks to Tomic and Lorbek, and a second half led by Abrines and Papanikolaou was enough to hand the visitors a defeat at the Palau.

By the seventh minute the home side were leading by 10 points (14-4), which forced Pablo Laso to call time out. His men were disoriented and they were unable to get Rudy into the game – they were being steamrolled by a absolute dominant Barça. They only managed to get a bit of breathing room from the free throw line, seeing that they had committed fewer fouls up until that point in the game. The atmosphere at the Palau got even more heated when a fight broke out between Nachbar and Mejri. Despite having the advantage in fouls, Madrid were behind by 11 at the end of the first quarter (21-10).

The second quarter was a duel between the point guards Pullen and Sergio Rodríguez. Six consecutive points from the Canary Islander and a three pointer from Carroll brought Madrid closer to Barça (33-25). Under Rodríguez,  Madrid gained in confidence, fluidity and effectiveness. A three pointer from Navarro coincided with chants of “independence” from the stands on 17 minutes (40-27). In the following three minutes Madrid cut Barça’s lead to 10 points.

Llull and Mirotic did what they could to get Madrid back into the game at the start of the second half, but they came up against a very inspired Abrines (53-40, min23). His third quarter was simply spectacular. Papanikolaou also stepped up in a big way, and his character and dedication spread to his teammates and the fans in the stands. Barça had taken a huge lead (61-43,) but the tension was still there. After a fantastic block from Abrines, Rudy lost it and was ejected from the game (67-55, min 28).

The final quarter was simple for Barça. Madrid saved face by scoring a few more points, but Barça wanted to come into the Final Four with sky-high morale. The fourth foul by Tomic took him to the bench in the final minutes. On the court Mirotic scored the 84-67. Next week Barça will take on Madrid once again, but this time in Milan.

MATCH FACTS

FC BARCELONA, 86
REAL MADRID, 75

FC Barcelona: Huertas (6), Oleson (5), Papanikolaou (18), Lorbek (6), Tomic (12) –starting five-, Dorsey, Sada, Abrines (20), Navarro (3), Lampe, Nachbar (6) i Pullen (10).

Real Madrid: Llull (13), Rudy Fernández (4), Darden (2), Mirotic (19), Bourossis (9)–starting five-, Díez (3), Rodríguez (13), Carroll (3), Mejri (5) i Slaughter (4).

Referees: Martín Bertrán, Peruga and Pérez.