The Last of Kaunas

The 2023 EuroLeague Final Four was left behind with a great cup game. It’s time to take a closer look at the organization where Real Madrid won its 11th championship…

For the first time since 2014, we watched a EuroLeague Final Four that did not include a Turkish team. Fenerbahce Beko’s fifth away match against Olimpiakos marked the end of the nine-year streak. Of course, the last four, created by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Olympiacos and Monaco, had their own stories. Real Madrid, which turned the Partizan series down 2-0 in an eventful way, Barcelona, which seems to be the favorite in Kaunas under Sarunas Jasikevicius, regular season winner Olimpiakos and Monaco, which was among the four teams for the first time… We remember the rest of the adventure of three days and four games.

Didn’t Happen Again

Sarunas Jasikevicius is one of the most respected figures in European basketball history. After four EuroLeague victories and countless other successful acting careers, Saras started coaching at Zalgiris Kaunas and gained attention by doing a lot with a small budget. In particular, he crowned his coaching career in his country by carrying the humble Lithuanian representative to the Final Four in 2018. Barcelona adventure that started after; So far it hasn’t been bad, but it lacked the most important win: a EuroLeague victory. Kaunas was an important target for Saras’s Barça, who lost to Anadolu Efes in the 2021 final and Real Madrid in the semi-finals in 2022, for two reasons: Efes, the champion of the last two years, who could not even make the playoffs, was out of the equation and with the influence of Jasikevicius, Kaunas was an important target for Kaunas. they could have had a support like playing at home. But Barcelona threw in the towel early into the Final Four, losing against their arch-rivals for the second year in a row. Moreover, this time Madrid has a lot of shortcomings and much less hope… Now it seems that the Barcelona adventure has come to an end for Saras. The legendary name will wait a little longer in his coaching for the trophy he won four times in his acting.

Basketball City

Kaunas is not one of the popular tourist destinations in Europe. But Lithuania’s second largest city, which gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, is one of the continent’s basketball capitals. The city, which has produced career players such as Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Sarunas Marciulionis, is also known for its huge support for its team Zalgiris Kaunas. Unsurprisingly, it’s full of basketball hoops and you can hear the sound of a ball bouncing around every corner. The fact that it has the Zalgirio Arena, one of the halls with the highest occupancy rate in Europe, makes this city with a population of more than 300 thousand a natural Final Four candidate. On the other hand, the limitations of transportation opportunities to the city, the number of hotels and social environments are also details that can be written on the negative line. Kaunas, the host of the 2023 EuroLeague Final Four, left this organization behind with its sins and merits. It should be said that despite some conditions that are far from ideal, a good result has emerged.

Deja vu

Having won two consecutive EuroLeague titles in 2012 and 2013, Olimpiakos was also on the losing side of the final in 2015 and 2017. Since the 2017 final, which resulted in Fenerbahçe’s first championship, things have not gone well for the red and white team. Until last season… The Greek team, which saw the Final Four years later in Belgrade, gave light to the future, although they lost first to Anadolu Efes and then to Barcelona in the third-place match. Georgios Bartzokas’ team; Sasha Vezenkov had a terrific 2022-23 regular season with players like Thomas Walkup, Moustapha Fall and Isaiah Canaan. Vezenkov was crowned MVP, Barztokas was crowned coach of the year, and the team was crowned season winner. The team, which beat Fenerbahçe Beko in five matches in the playoffs and drove the inexperienced Monaco in the third quarter in the semi-finals, was the favorite in front of Real Madrid in the final. But the account at home did not fit the market. Just as they couldn’t prevent Vasilije Micic’s three-pointer in the last second in the semi-finals last year, they couldn’t prevent Sergio Llull’s hit with 3.1 seconds left in the final this time. Moreover, it was even more painful than the previous one.

The Return of the King

To say that Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world is hardly original. The Spanish giant, which dominates the two biggest sports in the universe, such as football and basketball, has always had a certain standard. Chus Mateo, who took office after Pablo Laso’s departure last season, did his job well despite not appearing in sufficient profile for Real Madrid’s basketball team and carried them to the Final Four where he belongs. The fight that broke out at the end of the second match in the quarter-finals, the hilarious penalties, and the absence of Partizan’s most influential player, Kevin Punter, contributed to the series’ progress from 2-0 to 3-2. On the other hand, it was no small feat that Real managed to steal two games from Belgrade and then close the series with plenty of shortcomings. Coming to Kaunas with this confidence, Mateo and his students passed Barcelona with the incredible domination of Edy Tavares. After El Clasico, they had to be the side that came from behind again against Olympiacos. Sergio Rodriguez’s superb performance in a few games and Sergio Llull’s finishing ability meant another trophy for Real Madrid.

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