Barça takes basketball title and historic triple

The Catalans defeat Bilbao to add ACB league trophy to Cup and Supercup wins

In the end, despite its determination and the demands it made on its rival, the expectation that Bizkaia Bilbao this year could wing it faded quick: the Basques could not cope with the might of Regal Barcelona.

Bilbao, which surprised everyone with its wins over Power Valencia and Real Madrid to reach this year's ACB playoff finals, was knocked-out 55-64 in the third game in the best-of-five series. The Catalans took their 16th title after defeating the Basques three in a row.

Along with the talents of players such as man-of-the-match Juan Carlos Navarro, Erazem Lorbek and Víctor Sada - one of the biggest stars of the night - it was the seriousness and perfectionism that Barça, still smarting from the way it lost to Caja Laboral last season, brought to the court that helped the team demonstrate the superiority it showed on paper. This year it won all eight matches it played in the playoffs against Unicaja, Caja Laboral and Bilbao.

It was not a pretty match, but it nevertheless featured exceptional defending from both sides. While Bilbao pointguard Aaron Jackson's attacking mistakes weighed heavily on his team, Álex Mumbrú took hold of its offensive play, asking for the ball and causing trouble for Barça's Alan Anderson. Bilbao achieved some encouraging advantages, such as ending the first quarter with a 19-12 lead, but the Basques still found it difficult to score on short shots. Barça, meanwhile, struggled to pierce through. When it did finally manage it during the second, it began an unstoppable run of scoring, opening an important 33-41 gap with three consecutive three-pointers.

Jackson finally found inspiration, scoring three baskets in a row, but then quickly vanished. From then on, Navarro and Sada drove the tension that prevailed in the fourth quarter with their equal scoring.

In all, Barça made fewer mistakes. Marko Banic gave his team its final 51-50 lead but at that moment Barça moved into top gear and gave its adversary no chance. The differences were very small, but Navarro, Joe Ingles and Lorbek now didn't allow Bilbao to take the lead.

Then, as before, there was one omnipresent player. Pointguard Sada led his team from within the difficulty of such a blocked-up match, scoring well but, most of all, giving assists and rebounding more than anyone else. His effort, physical display and intelligence dazzled in the middle of the battle. Coach Xavi Pascual didn't doubt it, giving him almost three times as many minutes on the court as Ricky Rubio, who was very lifeless in what could possibly be his last game for Barça before his likely signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It was Pascual's eighth title out of the 10 in which he has competed in his two-and-half years as the Catalan team's coach. It was also the first triple cup victory (League, Cup and Supercup) in ACB history. "It has been the most special victory for me," said the 38-year-old, whose previous victories included last year's Euroleague title. "We have suffered many problems. I look back and I see the injuries to Basile, Mickeal, Navarro. [...] It has been difficult. We were always drawn with the most difficult opponents. Even so, we achieved almost everything and that allows us to go on writing the club's history. In this last game, with the scoreboard very low, we knew to wait for the moment and make the most of it."

Capturing his team's highest score at 16, Navarro agreed. "It has been difficult but we were focused. I am happy for the team and the fans. After not having managed to be in the European final four, in the Palau Sant Jordi, we have picked ourselves up very well."

Bilbao's Greek coach Fotis Katsikaris had nothing but praise for his men. "A team is born. It is the start of very nice stage. I wanted more, but it has given us hope for the future. We have ambition and we are very competitive."

Regal Barcelona's delighted players celebrate their ACB league title win.
Regal Barcelona's delighted players celebrate their ACB league title win.ALFREDO ALDAI (EFE)

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