EL Clasico de Baloncesto. Real Madrid against FC Barcelona. With the Spanish basketball championship on the line.
With the NBA kings celebrating their coronation in Toronto, it’s the turn of the world’s second-best league to uncover their best with Game 1 of the best-of-five ACB Playoff Finals on Saturday.
And after ceding their European title, Real are even more desperate to retain their domestic supremacy against their old rivals.
The 1.25 favourites to prevail, Pablo Laso’s men swept Valencia in the semi-finals to extend their current streak to 15 consecutive victories, with none of their previous three wins coming by fewer than eight points. Their scoring has held firm, with an average of 88.8 in this post-season as they continue to run and gun.
FT | VALENCIA 78-85 REAL MADRID.
Real Madrid continue their unstoppable march for the league title. Pablo Laso's men have won all of their games in the play-off series after downing Valencia 3-0 on their ground. #HalaMadrid pic.twitter.com/3Qj7s05QWw
— RMOnly (@ReaIMadridOnly) June 11, 2019
“We always want to win,” Laso declared, somewhat unsurprisingly. “We’re going to play our 80th game of the season, and we’ve had 63 wins and 16 defeats. But apart from the wins, to have played in the Cup Final, the SuperCup final, the Euroleague Finals, we’ve arrived at a different situation again in the ACB finale. And we’re back at zero, and even if we have home court advantage, we’ve not won anything yet.”
That higher seeding, from finishing first in the regular season, could be so very precious, with Real priced at 1.70 to take the opener on a handicap of -6. Both teams are 18-2 on their own floor with Game 3 and 4 (should it be required) to be hosted in Catalunya. Barcelona – a highly generous 3.95 to steal an upset in the initial duel – will need to be thieves on the road at least once.
Svetislav Pesic’s men will rely on the offense of Thomas Heurtel, who has reeled off 20.4 points per contest, but also on a defence that strangled Zaragoza in the previous round, holding them to just 59 points in their opening contest and to below 82 in the other two.
— Marco A. Munno (@MarcoAMunno) June 11, 2019
They will trust recent history is on their side, having swept the two Clasicos this term, pulling out an 86-69 rout at the Palau Blaugrana behind a Kyle Kuric blitz, and then riding Heurtel to an 82-76 vanquishing in Madrid.
Nothing, as expected, will be given easily. Game 2 on Monday will be the 200th encounter between the duo, dating all the way back to 1957. And on the 12 occasions Spain’s giants have squared up in the ACB Finals since it moved to a five-game series, the count is 6-6 with Real last emerging on top in 2016.
The all-clear has been given to Gustavo Ayon and Anthony Randolph, both hugely impactful for Madrid, but this is a decider which could be much closer than anticipated, despite Barcelona’s tag as underdogs – looking under 153 total points in the initial bout is an intriguing punt.
Real Madrid expect nothing less than triumphs. Barcelona likewise. Expect this to be a showdown which will run and run.
France’s LNB Pro A Playoff finals also commence on Saturday with ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne hosting Monaco in the opener of their best-of-five series with Zvezdan Mitrovic squaring off with Sasa Obradovic in an intriguing bench clash.
ASVEL have won 21 of their last 22 games against Monaco – the solitary loss came on April 24 in a 92-91 squeaker – and the goliaths, owned by newly-retired Tony Parker, have sustained only one defeat in their last 16.
It’s not surprising that Monaco are 2.25 outsiders to pinch the title and 2.43 to poach Game 1. With ample offensive talent, taking over 162 total points seems a solid punt but this is ASVEL’s championship to lose.