2011 Eurocup champion and Eurocup Final MVP Marko Popovic is back from injury and eager to contribute in Eurocup Finals and to fight for a ticket to the Euroleague, which he writes about in his new Eurocup blog.
Hi everybody. We are preparing for the finals. I, personally, returned from my injury in the semifinals and now I am trying to get ready for the final series against Gran Canaria. We are all doing everything we can do to get things right with my leg. I hope to be able help the team either in a supporting role, or in a main role like I did with Unics Kazan in 2011. But the latter is little hard to expect. And I don't mind being in a supporting role, because all that counts is for us to win the trophy.
I spent part of the season sidelined, and it is so much harder to watch your teammates play than it is to actually be on the court and play. When you are on the court, you simply do not have time to react and re-think certain things. You have the responsibility and determination when you are on the floor to make decisions. The end result shows if those decisions were right or wrong, but you are on the floor and influence the game. So, for a player to just watch the game is hard. Especially because we had a shortened rotation due to other injuries. We had some guys play 35 minutes per game, and you just pray to God you make it without more injuries until the final buzzer. But our healthy players, six or seven of them, have done an excellent job carrying us. They got us to where we are now, the Eurocup Finals, plus we secured second place in the VTB League.
The experience of previously winning the Eurocup is a big factor, but not critical. For our coach, Rimas Kurtinaitis, this is a chance for a third Eurocup trophy. He won it with Lietuvos Rytas, and this would be his second with Khimki. Sergey Monia, Egor Vyaltsev and I have all also won the Eurocup before; they did it with Khimki and I won with Unics. However, you have to keep in mind that we play against a coach who has done it all and has been through it all — Aito Garica Reneses. His team plays excellent and dynamic basketball, with a lot of movement. This is a clash of great coaches, and great teams that play differently, but both teams have technical and tactical qualities. We both deserve to be in the finals, and I am absolutely positive that the winner will be decided by few details.
In my opinion, having a two-game final series is more fair than playing the Final Four. It would be best to have a best-of-five series, but this system is good, too. It still leaves a chance for an underdog to make an upset with a potential big home victory, but the better team usually does go through and win the series.
We play Game 2 at home, but I don't know if it is an advantage. My experience from last year tells me it is better to play at home first. Last season, we lost Eighthfinals Game 1 by 16 points in Valencia, and then held a 21-point lead in the return leg, but did not have enough focus in the final minute and lost the series. So, playing the return leg at home is not crucial. Better team will win the series. It might sound like a cliché, but it's the truth.
However, it is a fact that we have a big winning streak at home in the Eurocup. We feel very good in our gym, especially when it is full. Then we play with another dose of motivation. We play better at home, but you must agree that we have displayed good basketball on the road this season, too.
We are not going to Gran Canaria to lose by a small margin, or to win by 20. We are going there to play our style of basketball, control the tempo and see where it gets us. That game there is only the first half of the series, but we will fight for every possession and every basket because we know how crucial it can be. Then, in front of our crowd, we will go after our goal – that's the Eurocup title and the ticket to the Euroleague.
Also, it is a long trip from one game to another for both teams, but we need to get over that. For me, winning another Eurocup title, and with another club, would mean a lot. For Khimki, it plays a big role because it secures a place in Euroleague, which is our goal for this season. Wish us luck!