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Rubio's Barcelona Swept Out of Spanish Finals by Splitter's Baskonia

Jun 16, 2010 – 8:56 AM
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Tom Ziller

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When Ricky Rubio decided to stay in Spain for at least two years after being drafted by the Timberwolves last June, he had to have known he'd be watched be hordes of American fans hoping to catch a glimpse of future NBA point guard. That's worked in his favor this season, as Rubio helped lead Barcelona to a marvelous Euroleague championship, pairing with former Grizzly Juan Carlos Navarro to dominate the tournament. Barcelona ran up a 20-2 record in Euroleague play, and beat Greek power Olympiakos by 18 points in the title game last month.

But things didn't work out as well in the Spanish league playoffs. Barcelona faced off against Vitoria-based Baskonia in the Finals, and Brazilian big man (and Spurs draft pick) Tiago Splitter just crushed them. Baskonia completed a 3-0 sweep of Barcelona Tuesday, finishing the best-of-five series in overtime at home after taking two at Barcelona's Palau Blaugrana. And for all the feting Rubio received for leading Barcelona through Euroleague looking like a cross between a wizard and a cagey veteran, he's going to take a lot of the fire for the embarrassing loss.

Barcelona ran up a 31-3 record in the ACB's regular season, and swept Gran Canaria and Unicaja on their way to the finals. But running into Baskonia was like running into a reinforced concrete wall. Rubio was awful in the first two games of the series, playing at home. He combined for nine points on 16 shots in those games, and totaled two assists. He had a strong Game 3, with 14 points and four assists, and hit a key three in overtime. But it was too little too late.

The real NBA story here is Splitter, who is rumored to be receiving a full-court press from San Antonio this summer. The Spurs picked Splitter in 2008 with the hopes of adding his physicality and polish to the aging frontcourt ASAP. Splitter demurred and remained in Spain through the '08-09 and '09-10 seasons, but has hinted he may be ready. This ACB Finals' performance certainly gives credence to that.

Splitter was the ACB's regular season MVP, and led the all-league team (which also included Rubio and Navarro, as well as Barcelona's Erazem Lorbek and Estudiantes' Carlos Suarez). Splitter was named Finals MVP following Tuesday's win. He averaged 16 points and seven rebounds for Baskonia, and honestly looks like he could start next to Tim Duncan immediately (with no offense meant to Antonio McDyess or enigmatic bench beast DeJuan Blair). The Spurs don't figure to be major free agency players. If Splitter is as good as he's looked in Spain, they won't need to be.

As for Rubio, Barcelona's epic record and Euroleague title should do well to squelch most criticism. Some will say Barcelona was so talented top to bottom any point guard could have racked up wins leading the club. My view is that meting out shots to talented players is a challenge itself, and Rubio availed himself completely, despite the disappointing finish to his league season.

And if nothing else, watching Splitter reign has justified Rubio's path. Splitter could have joined the Spurs as soon as he was drafted, but wanted to further develop his skill in Europe. No one can argue whether he's done that. He's in a much better position to transition to the world's greatest league now, and Rubio will be in the same boat in a couple years.
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