The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague runner-up, Real Madrid, had a rollercoaster season. Los Blancos shined in the playoffs and came within a basket from winning it all in Belgrade at the Final Four.
Season in review: Real Madrid
Final Four drama
No matter how you spin it, Real Madrid's 2021-22 campaign will be remembered by its final two games at the Final Four at Belgrade's Stark Arena. In the semifinals, Real rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to outduel archrival FC Barcelona 83-86. It was a remarkable feat considering Real had lost five straight times against Barcelona going into the game. But Guerschon Yabusele scored 18 points and Sergio Llull added 15, including a key layup with 22 seconds left. Two nights later in a tight championship game against Anadolu Efes Istanbul, Llull scored a layup with 44 seconds to go to get Real within 57-58, but Los Blancos never got the ball back in their hands. It was the fifth championship game since 2013 for Real and its head coach Pablo Laso, but after winning it all in 2015 and 2018, they returned empty-handed on this occasion.
Ups and downs before a playoff sweep
What preceded the Final Four was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Los Blancos. For the first four months, it seemed like an ordinary season for Real with the team holding first place in early February with only 5 losses after 25 rounds. But Real then went on a pair of four-game losing streaks, including one to end the regular season, forcing the team to finish fourth and face a surging Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv in the playoffs. But Coach Laso's team put behind those regular-season woes and breezed through the playoffs with three double-digit victories in the best-of-five series. With Yabusele averaging 15.7 points and 5.0 rebounds while off the bench Llull netted 11.7 points per game and Vincent Poirier 10.7 points plus 5.7 rebounds, Real was the only team to sweep in the playoffs this season. It capped the series with a resounding 76-87 win in a packed Menora Mivtachim Arena to return to its first Final Four since 2019.
Tavares the paint ruler
Walter Tavares was an All-EuroLeague First Team selection at center for the second consecutive season thanks to his consistent dominance in the paint. Tavares ranked second this season with 7.5 rebounds while finishing as the league leader in offensive rebounding (3.1 per game), and second with 1.7 blocks per game. The Real big man averaged 10.9 points and ranked seventh in two-point accuracy (69.5%), all leading to having the third-highest average PIR (18.4) during the 2021-22 campaign while playing 23 minutes per game. In the final game of the season, Tavares also inked his name in the EuroLeague record books by pulling down 8 offensive rebounds in the championship game, tying the single-game Final Four record.
Real Madrid's greatest strength was its rebounding as it was not only the best rebounding team this season, but one of the best rebounding teams in EuroLeague history. Real led the league with 38.3 rebounds per game, which is the sixth-best average this century and a single-season mark for total rebounds (1,455). The team was especially dominant on the defensive glass, where it shattered previous records. Real averaged 26.5 defensive rebounds per game - a rebound and a half better than the previous single-season record - and became the first team in EuroLeague history with more than 1,000 defensive rebounds for a season. Subsequently, Real allowed the second-fewest offensive rebounds (8.6 per game). Los Blancos dominated under the opponents’ basket, as well. The team ranked second in offensive rebounding (11.8 per game) with a total of 448, the second-most offensive rebounds in a single season ever.