We need to be ourselves

As you probably know, we are in the middle of the playoffs, which is a first-time experience for Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. Getting the home-court advantage in the series was one of our goals at the end of the Top 16, but Barcelona stole it by winning Game 2 at our place. We knew coming into the series that Barcelona is the favorite: they put together a team with the goal of making it to the Final Four. We have to play our game and obviously, with the series tied at 1-1, try to win at least one game at Palau Blaugrana, which is something we know we are capable of. We have played four times against them this season: three of those game were really close and we won two of them. We have shown character all season, proving we can compete against any team. We come off a bad game but have to be loyal to our basketball philosophy and to the playing style that brought us to the playoffs.

We saw a great atmosphere in the games in Krasnodar! Our fans really back our team and are happy with the season we are having. Even after losing Game 2, our fans were there to thank us for our effort when we were leaving the arena. You can tell people are having a good team and are looking forward to seeing us win more games! The club has made a great effort to make the games even more exciting. They are doing everything possible to make sure everyone in Krasnodar knows how good the team is doing. We just have to do what we know best: play good basketball and make sure that our fans enjoy the games. The club puts on a good show around the game – cheerleaders, music, our mascot, even Kuban Cossacks singing the Euroleague anthem! – and there are posters everywhere in Krasnodar. They made a special playoffs poster with our coach on it. It is good for people to realize that the team is having a good season.

We started the series with a home win, sealing the outcome in the final minutes down the stretch. Barcelona did not score in the last 4 minutes. They didn’t find good shots and we took the game to our territory. We didn’t do that in the beginning of the game, when they hit open shots and were able to play in transition, where they feel more comfortable. Little by little, we turned the situation around and won the game in the end. Both teams were a bit nervous early in the game, but that’s normal. Looking around the competition, pretty much every team in every series struggled in the opening minutes of Game 1. We had very low percentages, especially from three-point range.

Unfortunately, Game 2 was very different. They have a deeper rotation and every player that comes off the bench plays at a great level. They moved the ball better than in Game 1, found open shots and played much better all around. That is what we do well, too – move the ball, find good shots – but we didn’t do that in Game 2. We had a bad game on offense and defense. We were not the team we have been all season and when we started to play better, it was already too late. We talked at halftime and agreed that we had to keep on fighting. It is a long series and you just cannot throw a game away. We have to be faithful to our playing style, always.

It was Juan Carlos Navarro’s 300th Euroleague game and he played very well. It looks like he feels comfortable playing in Krasnodar, because he had already done very well in the regular season against us here! When a player like that has a good day, he is very hard to guard, especially if the rest of the team helps him like they did in Game 2. We all know what he is capable of. It is special to play against people I know, in this case some of my teammates from the Spanish national team, but of course, when you step on court, there are no friends other than your own teammates. So far this season, I didn’t have to play one-on-one defense against anyone I know! Again, it is cool to see them and talk to them but once you start the game, you focus on playing well and beating them!

So, on to Game 3! We will try to make the game as similar to Game 1 as we possibly can. We were really close to beating them at Palau Blaugrana in the regular season, too. We have been analyzing our mistakes over the last few days and know that we are able to correct those to play a good game against Barcelona and get the road win we need. We missed a lot of good, open shots in both games until now. We have good shooters on this team and have to be confident that those shots will go in. We are not in this series to give up:we will fight as much as I can, and believe we can win.

This playoffs series is a good opportunity for us but I think the pressure is on Barcelona. Making it to the Final Four was not one of our goals in the beginning of the season, but Barcelona’s team was built exactly for that, to challenge for a Final Four spot. We have nothing to lose and a lot to win, and this works in our favor. The pressure is on them and the longer the series is, the more pressure there will be.

The main key from now for us is to be tougher defensively and not allow them to feel comfortable. We did that in Game 1, but not in Game 2. We cannot allow them to run or circulate the ball like they did on Friday. On offense, we have to move the ball well, like we did all season, and shots will go in, I am sure.
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