We made it to the Final Four! Every season that you play for a team like CSKA, the goal is always to fight to win and all of the goals that we had at the beginning of the season – having a good regular season, making it to the playoffs, preferably with the home-court advantage and making it to the Final Four – were accomplished. Now, it is time to fight for the EuroLeague title. It has been a long season, but you have to try to be as strong as you can and arrive at the Final Four in the best condition. We played well in our playoff series against Khimki. It was a complicated series, just like all the others; when you reach that point and you have the home-court advantage in the playoffs, the pressure is on you to win those two opening games or things can get complicated. Khimki brought back players in the playoffs and had good games with confidence, but we worked well all season and that good work helped us make it to the Final Four even without Kyle and Nando. We took a step forward as a team, and won the series.
It is a great honor for me that I was chosen to the All-EuroLeague Second Team, but I am most happy because the team is doing things the right way from the beginning of the season, working hard, knowing what our goals are and trying to achieve them. Personally, I am very happy. I adjusted well to the team, which was not easy coming from the NBA, which has a different system and a different structure. I came to a new city with people who speak a different language, a new country and had new teammates and coaches. I adjusted quickly and am happy with the way things are going this season. At the same time, I have in mind what our goals are, and now it is the time to go all-in.
Experience is basic in a Final Four, and having been there before gives every player a big plus. At the same time, all teams but maybe Zalgiris have players who have been in the Final Four already. It is very important to have that experience, to know what it is all about and share your own experiences with the rest of the team. I had the chance to play four Final Fours in the past. I had a difficult time in my first Final Four because I didn’t know what to expect and what to do. After that, everything went better; I played three consecutive finals in 2013, 2014 and 2015, when I finally won the title with Real Madrid. It is a complicated tournament in which you have to be mentally strong and bounce back from bad moments during the games. It all happens in a short period of time, the first and the second one. You have to know how to handle it.
When I was with Real Madrid, we won the EuroLeague at home and that made it even more special. I was able to play in front of a lot of family, friends and people I knew. This time around, my daughter is three years old, my wife is pregnant and they cannot be there with me. My father and some friends will be there. I will try to be as focused as possible, because you may think it is just a weekend, but in just three days there is a lot at stake and you have to be focused under any circumstance.
We already played against Real Madrid twice and of course, playing against them is always special, not just for me, but also for my former teammates. In the end, once the game start, you just focus on what you have to do. You have to focus on a lot of things and try to control everything. Experience helps, of course; I played a lot of very important games and it is easier now for me to get away from everything around the game and just focus on basketball. The Final Four can make you lose your concentration, but I have the experience of playing two Clasicos – Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona – at this event, and that definitely helps you know what to do to avoid all the off-court stuff. You see things in a different way and handle every situation better.
I am very happy that Sergio Llull is back in action. It was hard for all of us when he got injured in July and everyone wanted him to be back as soon as possible. He is a great player, one of the best, and all players have to be in the best physical condition for games like these. I am very happy for him; we have been getting ready for this moment for a long time and worked well to be in a good situation. Both teams have a lot of talented players with great scoring skills. It is hard to limit an opponent like that, but we all know that defense will be the key. The team that plays better defense will be closer to winning. We have to focus on doing this right and try to limit them; I believe stopping them, with so much talent, is impossible. We have to make them feel as uncomfortable as possible.
A Final Four is always exciting no matter where you play it. You fight to be the European champion, so no matter where you play, it is great. With that in mind, Serbia is a basketball country. I played EuroBasket 2005 in Belgrade and every time you play against any of the local teams, it is truly special. Still, everything around the Final Four is great, but we are focused on what we have to do, in this case, beat Real Madrid and make it to the final.