We were expecting a tough semifinal series against Dynamo. Our players were empty psychologically and a little bit tired as you don't sleep much during the Final Four and it always consumes a lot of energy. We were lucky to have Dynamo as our opponent, with all the rivalry going on between our clubs. It helped us to come out really strong in the first 20 minutes of the first game. We've got an early lead and controlled the game till the end.
It's extremely difficult psychologically to play two games in two days. This is one of the reasons we lost one of back-to-back games at home in the semifinals last year and the year before it. I don't know why Russian league keep scheduling back-to-back games. Maybe they want to cut travel expenses, maybe for some other reason. But it's been like this since I came here.
At the beginning of the second game we weren't as tough and determined mentally. Plus they had a reaction after losing the first game by 15 points. They executed well their game plan while we were sloppy in our execution and didn't have the usual contribution from some of our players. In this close game, with 24 lead changes, we were clever and lucky to find Khryapa for two free throws at the end of the regulation. It was a big pressure on him to convert those two, but he managed to make both. We got a 2-0 lead.
I thought we prepared well for the third game. But in the first 20 minutes our game was again sloppy both defensively and offensively. We couldn't find the rhythm. If it wasn't for Matjaz and J.R. who kept us within 10 points behind Dynamo, we could have lost the game in the first half. I decided to leave Theo out, because I thought he was one of the most tired players after the Final Four, mentally and physically. I know I took a risk, but it worked. We had a very good second half by everybody, especially the third quarter when we allowed only 9 points by cutting their shooters from getting open shots. It was the quarter that decided the game.
I never expected to win this series 3-0. Considering this, I was pretty satisfied to advance to the final with two wins by a large margin and one win in overtime.
I was hoping we could reschedule the final series not to wait for a whole week. It doesn't make sense to wait so many days and then play five games within a very short span, especially at the end of the season when both teams are tired. But they couldn't reschedule it for, as far as I know, television reasons.
So we had a week of practice. The good thing is that we had time to prepare physically, to do our weightlifting, to prepare for the final series which we know will be extremely difficult as we play against the team that defeated us in the Russian Cup. The fact that Ewing will sit out first three games is a loss for them, but they have many good players and will be as strong an opponent as always. They played well in the Russian Cup final and deserved the win. On the other hand, we are a mature team, we don't need to over-motivate our players by asking them to take a revenge. We know why we lost and we will come prepared this time.
In the last part of the season we try to have shorter, but more intense practices. They don't last more than hour and a half now. Last week we arranged a scrimmage, as we had enough players to split them into two teams, coached by Lele and Zhenya. We invited referees and played a regular game. I think the players liked it. I stayed out and just watched the game with Claudio. It was a good idea as we've almost recreated the atmosphere of a game which is important for players not lose the ability to play under contact.
The rhythm of this scrimmage was also similar to a real game, because both teams had only 7 players each. The referees did a good job helping us to recreate a true game atmosphere with good calls and bad calls. There was a serious effort from both teams and it looked like a real game. I was very pleased with that. I never did it before, but I decided we needed something to break the routine, because this week was extremely long. The team coached by Zhenya won so I told Lele that he'll probably get fired after that. On Monday we started the preparation for the Final. We prepared the Final Four in two days, so I don't see why this preparation should be any longer.
There were a couple of days after the Final Four when our players felt urgency: «Let's finish this quickly. Let's try to win this series quickly and advance to the Final». After such a great result in Euroleague everybody would like to go on vacation, especially the players who go to the Olympics. They are eager to get rest before starting preparation with their national teams. The second game against Dynamo helped us to get back to reality. It showed us that we need to be patient, we need to prepare and execute well. Now I don't see any sign of urgency. The team is focused on the final. I hope not to have a wrong feeling, but I feel that we will be prepared.