Real Madrid is the most crowned club in European basketball history, with a record 10 EuroLeague trophies, four more than its nearest pursuer.
Real Madrid: Déjà vu four years later
Having won the last of those 10 titles in 2018 at Stark Arena in Belgrade, Real now returns to the Serbian capital with the same head coach and a similar core of players to try to claim an 11th continental crown in the very same building.
Over more than a decade, head coach Pablo Laso has guided Real through a new golden age with a simple if hard-to-execute recipe – strong defense leading to transition scoring – carried out by a core of players known for competing at their maximum at all times. Continuity is part of Real's formula, with no fewer than seven players – Fabien Causeur, Anthony Randolph, Rudy Fernandez, Walter Tavares, Sergio Llull, Trey Thompkins and Jeffery Taylor – still on the roster four years after lifting the EuroLeague trophy together in Belgrade.
Led by Tavares, who was chosen as the EuroLeague MVP for November, Real won 11 of its first 13 games, lodging itself in the most privileged part of the standings for the remainder of the regular season. Making his mark in the Spanish capital, too, was newcomer Guerschon Yabusele, who was chosen as the EuroLeague MVP for January after starring throughout a nine-game winning streak that boosted Real's record to 23-3.
In February, however, Real lost four consecutive games without reaching the 70-point mark and registering its all-time EuroLeague low in points, 47, against Zalgiris in Kaunas. In part due to injuries, Real kept struggling until the end of the regular season, and by the time it finished had dropped to fourth place in the standings. No player on the team appeared in all of Real's regular-season games. A home loss in its regular-season finale against FC Bayern Munich left fans wondering, but that's precisely when Real regained its rhythm and championship-level character.
In the playoffs, Real had the home-court advantage against Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv in what was a true Euro-classic. Game 1 would mark their 65th meeting since the 1960s, making it the most-played rivalry in European club competitions history. Causeur had 20 points to lead Real to an 84-74 home win in Game 1. Vincent Poirier's double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds helped fill a resounding 95-66 victory in Game 2. Real finished the work in Tel Aviv, downing Maccabi 76-87 behind Llull's 18 points and 6 assists to sweep the series and claim a Final Four ticket sooner than any other team.
Packing great memories from 2018, Real returns to Belgrade very much aware of its advantages as a team: size around the basket, good-as-gold experience and, above all, the character and pride that were evident in its 180-degree pivot from a difficult end of the regular season to dominance in the playoffs.
It is mandatory for Real players to leave their hearts on the court; that has been in the club's DNA for decades. Many on this roster did just that four years ago in Belgrade, and history tells us that whoever wears the Real Madrid jersey is more than capable of doing it again.