The summer arrivals of Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius and pass master Nick Calathes served to further enhance an already glittering array of talent at FC Barcelona, ensuring that the Spanish powerhouse entered the new campaign with plenty of optimism. And those early positive feelings were duly justified with a commanding opening night 76-66 home win over reigning champion CSKA Moscow.
However, just in case anyone thought the task ahead would be easy, Barca was then handed a stern reminder of the ultra-competitive nature of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with a defeat to Zenit St Petersburg and former coach Xavi Pascual in Round 2.
With that lesson duly learned, Barca then flexed its muscles by embarking on an impressive seven-game winning run, firmly establishing itself as one of the top teams in the competition. That sequence of successes included a 79-72 Clasico victory over Real Madrid at Palau Blaugrana and a remarkable comeback triumph at TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz in Round 6 when Jasikevicius’s team scored the last 11 points of the game in the final 4 minutes to secure an improbable 71-72 win.
When mid-November delivered thumping consecutive victories against ALBA Berlin and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, it looked as though Barca was set for a season of domination. But then came a bump in the road with losses against LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne and Olympiacos Piraeus, soon followed by a worrying end to 2020 with three straight losses against Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and FC Bayern Munich.
Those defeats left Barca in fourth place with an 11-6 record at the dawn of the New Year, placing Jasikevicius under pressure for the first time in his short tenure. A response was required, and it came in emphatic fashion as the Catalan club roared back into top form with six consecutive victories. The most notable triumph during that run came in Round 20 at CSKA Moscow when Cory Higgins scored 25 points against his former team to secure an important 75-88 win.
Home defeats against Efes and ASVEL in February threatened to jeopardize Barca’s place in the top four, but Jasikevicius’s men were in no mood to lose their place near the top of the standings and again rose to the challenge with a powerful run of five straight wins. Two of those came back-to-back on the road, with a 76-81 Clasico victory at Real Madrid followed immediately by a statement-making 56-72 success at AX Armani Exchange Milan, where Barca’s defense simply smothered the Italian team’s dangerous scorers.
The star of the show during the winning run – as he was throughout the whole season – was Nikola Mirotic, whose relentless consistency earned him the league’s MVP of the month award for March to underline his status as one of the league’s best players.
Victory at Fenerbahce in Round 33 allowed the Blaugrana to secure a first-place finish with a week to spare, and the final game of the regular season – a harmless loss to Bayern – was notable for the return to action of local hero Pau Gasol, who has headed home to rejoin his first club with the aim of securing the only major trophy so far to elude him: the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. On the evidence of the regular season, Gasol has every chance of turning that dream into reality over the coming weeks.