January’s coming up roses for Barcelona as Grimau puts frustrating December behind

Jan 11, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

There was plenty of pressure on Barcelona and its head coach Roger Grimau as he stepped foot onto the Palau Blaugrana floor just before tipoff against Olympiacos. Despite having won back-to-back Euroleague games against Real Madrid and Baskonia along with an ACB contest, Barca entered the month of January after having lost four Euroleague matchups and two league clashes. With a pair of double weeks beginning after the new year, Grimau, a Barcelona Legend, knew exactly what the expectations are and that this was already money time with four games coming ultimately right after the next.

Related – Meeting a Barcelona Legend: Roger Grimau

Barcelona has no lack of talent and depth, although they were missing some key players for this game with Alex Abrines and Nico Laprovittola both out of action with latter having been a late scratch due to a muscle issue. While the Catalonia club may be in third place coming into the Olympiacos contest, winning and greatness is ultimately the name of the game.

Tomas Satoransky – Photo Credit: Euroleague

The Greek club has been hovering a little bit over .500 in the hunt for at least a spot in the Play In but the loss of two key cogs in head coach Georgios Bartzokas’s machine in Sasha Vezenkov to the Sacramento Kings and Kostas Sloukas to crosstown rivals Panathinaikos, it’s clear that Olympiacos are still under construction.

What became evident, very very quickly is that Barcelona moves the ball well. Really, really well and that caused fits off the bat for the visitors. Any time someone gets stuck in the paint, especially by a double team, the first reaction is not to try and force the shot but to kick the ball out and find the open man on the perimeter for usually a wide open 3-pointer. The Barca players know that someone is free and that someone is going to be beyond the arc.

In the first quarter that was Jabari Parker as the former second overall pick at the 2014 NBA Draft went wild from deep with a trio of triples and 13 first quarter points but that didn’t matter to Alec Peters who willed his team back into the game but the hosts went up 27-20 after ten minutes of play.

Jabari Parker – Photo Credit: Euroleague

Parker, who played his first four seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks also spent time with five other teams before heading overseas and signing with Barca. Unfortunately, the Duke product’s time in the NBA was injury plagued right from his first season in the Association and probably didn’t live up to the expectations that were set by the experts and perhaps also himself.

As the second quarter got underway a smattering of former NBA players and ones that would like to one day play in the “World’s Greatest League” began to put their mark on the game. From Olympiacos guard Nigel Williams-Goss who played a 10 game stint with the Utah Jazz to Barcelona’s 23-year old forward Joel Parra who scored a game winning bucket this past weekend in the local ACB League who may dream of heading to the NBA one day.

Goss dropped 8 points in the period had plied his trade with Partizan Belgrade and Olympiacos before giving the NBA a whirl with the team that had selected him in the second round of the 2017 Draft. After that a decision was made to head back to Europe where he played with Lokomotiv Kuban and Real Madrid before joining up with his former team.

However, it was Parra who had played in Israel with the Spain Under-20 Team at the 2019 European Championships that was held in Tel Aviv who supplied Roger Grimau’s team with that little bit of extra, thanks to a pair of buckets and then a long 3-pointer with 4 seconds left to keep the hosts ahead 44-41 at halftime.

Barca came our flying to begin the third quarter and with some quick 3-pointers by Tomas Satoransky, Dario Brizuela and Nikola Kalinic along with a pair of buckets from Parker quickly bumped up the lead up to double while Willy Hernangomez scored a huge ten points to put Barca in the drivers seat with a 75-63 lead after thirty minutes of action.

“Guancho” Hernangomez had started his European career with his childhood team Real Madrid but after one season with the senior team it was off to the NBA where he played close to 350 games split between the Knicks, Hornets and Pelicans. But at the age of 29 and after winning the 2022 Eurobasket championship while garnering the tournament’s MVP award Hernangomez decided it was time to come back home, but not to his real home but to Barcelona in a transaction that took some time due to Real originally balking the deal.

Nigel Williams-Goss – Photo Credit: Euroleague

Peters and Williams-Goss started to chip away at the lead as Georgios Bartzokas and his Olympiacos team made sure to keep fighting tooth and claw to stay within striking distance but both sides kept shooting blank after blank with misses from Parker and Hernangomez at one end and Williams-Goss and Peters at the other.

The game was there for Grimau’s men to take but one mistake after the next with no one finding the bottom of the basket for minute after minute for almost five minuets in total, started to raise the level of pressure throughout the Arena as Olympiacos cut the lead down to just 3-points, 81-78 with under two minutes to go. But finally Kalinic scored in the paint and Tomas Satoransky dialled up from long distance to seal the deal and take the 86-78 win for Barcelona.

“I tried to put all my energies on the defense,” Grimau said at the postgame press conference as his team has really picked up steam with 3/3 in Euroleague games since the start of the new year. “Maybe we’re not scoring but we can play defense, pack the paint, rebound and play defense as best as we can while trying to find solutions such as play switching defense. At the end just finding the two big shots from Kalinic and Satoransky decided the game.”

Nikola Kalinic – Photo Credit: Euroleague

“Very close game,” the Barca bench boss continued. “We started really good with our first quarter defense and we found good solutions offensively. The second quarter they came back with switching defense and we came out well in the third, attacking that defense and hitting some 3’s. But in the fourth quarter both teams had a hard time to score with tight defense, but we finished the game with big shots, Kalinic and Satoransky. I’m happy for the fans.”

Bartzokas, who saw plenty of familiar faces at the post game presser, having coached Barcelona a number of years back, also looked at the game from his point of view, “In the game versus Barca we just needed something more. We played less from our quality, one level down and if more players were in good shape we could have won. A few times we were 3 points down and we missed every shot when we could have put Barca under pressure. We needed to be more solid on defense from the first quarter and not just near the end.”

Georgios Bartzokas – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The Greek bench tactician also spoke about some of the challenges he’s been facing this season, “First time you have two double Euroleague weeks in a row and domestic league games. You sometimes think you have to climb the mountain and we have to just looking at the next game. We don’t have a lack of talent but we did lose some key players in Sasha Vezenkov and right now we don’t have time for practice. We are trying to build through the games we are trying to be solid every night.”

Hernangomez expressed his thoughts about what seems to be a turnaround so far in the new year, “We fought really hard against a really good team, really well-coached so a big win for us. Great year so far, 2024, for us. We fought really hard. We must win every single game here, at Palau.”

Thomas Satoransky may have said it best after the win, “We were a little bit short-handed and the ups and downs are normal, but I am super happy that we were able to defend well at the end because the offense didn’t work for us at the end of the game and we were able to win it. It is super important to keep adding victories, especially at home.”

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