Sergio Llull plays with two socks on each foot. It is his way, says the Real Madrid point guard, to improve his grip on the track. And to enhance that explosive game that he has always characterized him. That spark launched him to score two decisive triples in the last quarter of the fifth game against Partizan Belgrade, the end of a volcanic series marked by another eruption of the white captain. His unsportsmanlike foul on Kevin Punter, a slap resulting from impotence when his team sank in the second meeting, originated the brawl that led to the Euroleague sanctions, and which in the end weakened Obradovic’s team especially for the matches in Serbian. Llull, who was not among the 21 players disqualified for the crossover, apologized and returned to focus his energy on the game. Madrid came back from 0-2 (what had never been achieved before by anyone), led in the final push by their oldiesand the point guard will become in Kaunas, at 35, the Spaniard with the most appearances in the Final Four: nine, ahead of the eight of Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy and Sergio Rodríguez.
“I remember the defeats more, what could have been, than the two that I have won [en 2015 y 2018]. Being there creates addiction and you want to relive those sensations”, explains Llull at the gates of the duel against Barça. “When you wear this shirt, you have to be in the Final Four. It’s a mini-goal. This team grows when we play without a net, when we play finals. And that is what we will do in Kaunas, play without a net because if we don’t we will go home. Until the marker turns red, we will not lower our arms. It is our DNA, never to give up”, adds the man with the most consecutive seasons for white, 17, in the current squad.
That passage of time, injuries and the growth of another generation have diminished Llull’s presence on the track. In the ACB this season, his average minutes (16) and points (6.9) per game are the lowest since the 2007-08 season. And in the Euroleague his statistics (17 and 6.3) also decrease compared to his historical average in Europe (23 and 9.9). The captain assumes it with resigned naturalness. “I am always prepared. The years go by and I have to adapt to a different role and also to a different way of understanding basketball. Even if I don’t play, I have to be ready to cheer and lend a hand from the bench. Those of us who have more experience give some advice and explain the sensations of playing a Final Four. We are trying to set an example. If you see Rudy drop to the ground for three balls, you have no choice but to follow him”, explains the captain.
It was that connection with Rudy (38 years old) and with Sergio Rodríguez (36) that ended up knocking down Partizán and fattened the book of comebacks. The three set foot in a Final Four again, a field in which Llull is honoris causa. Since 2002 he has been number one in assists in this final phase of the competition, 62; only Navarro and Holden have celebrated more triples (30) than the Spaniard, 26, like Rodríguez and Teodosic; and only the American point guard surpasses him, by a finger, in score (194 to 191).
Madrid’s number 23 (for Jordan, of course) chases another crown as he looks to a summer in which he can return with the Spanish team after missing last Eurobasket due to injury. That loss opened the door back to Alberto Díaz and reconfigured a group that ended up winning gold. Now Llull accelerates to defend the World Cup that he also celebrated as a short in 2019. It was his seventh international medal in 155 matches with the Family. In the final in Beijing against Argentina he scored 15 points. In front of him was his ex-partner Campazzo. “Sergi is a criminal with a winning mentality,” Facu praised him. “It’s a good definition,” thanked the Spaniard. This course the Croatian Hezonja has also surrendered to the eternal youth of the most expert in the booth: “They have fire in their eyes.”
crossings and schedules
Olympiacos-Monaco (Friday at 5:00 p.m., Dazn)
Barcelona-Real Madrid (Friday at 8:00 p.m., Dazn).
Third place: Sunday at 4:00 p.m., Dazn.
Final: Sunday at 7:00 p.m., Dazn.
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