VITORIA (Liga Endesa) – Spain will move front and center in international hoops next year when the country hosts the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
If the spectacle is anything like what Real Madrid and Barcelona served up on Thursday night in the Copa del Rey, 2014 is going to be very special for the game.
Madrid, the runaway leaders in the Liga Endesa with 19 wins in 20 games and one of the top sides in the Euroleague, took on their rivals Barca in a pulsating encounter and lost in double overtime, 111-108.
There are going to be a lot of exciting games all over Europe this weekend with domestic leagues taking a break for the respective cup competitions.
The showdown between Madrid and Barca is going to be tough to beat for thrills and spills.
One national team star after another, players that are sure to feature at the World Cup, made huge plays in the latest installment of 'El Clasico'.
Bringing back memories of the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan, when both came off the bench as youngsters in Spain's title-winning squad, Real Madrid guard Sergio Rodriguez connected with high-flying Rudy Fernandez late in the first half for an alley-oop dunk.
Nikola Mirotic, the MVP of the 2011 U20 European Championship for Spain, showed time and time again for Madrid that he is one of the terrific young talents in basketball, scoring with jump shots or putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket.
In one jaw-dropping move, Mirotic was on the perimeter and being closely guarded by Barcelona's Erazem Lorbek when he lowered his shoulder and blew past the Slovenian before dribbling in for a lay-up.
Spain international Sergio Llull hit a string of important three-pointers for Madrid and Rodriguez dazzled in the second half.
Barca, who have endured some tough losses this season with their Spain national team star Juan Carlos Navarro slowed by injuries, put all their firepower on display on Thursday.
Though not at his best, Navarro joined former Spain and Real Madrid marksman Alberto Herreros as the all-time leaders in made three-pointers in Copa del Rey history with 49 by nailing one on Thursday.
Barcelona’s Marcelinho Huertas, Brazil's national team point guard, made important shots and delivered passes with pin-point accuracy.
Croatia center Ante Tomic, unwanted by Madrid at the end of last season and snapped up by Barca, grabbed 11 important rebounds and also scored 20 points.
When it was all said and done, Barcelona's stars made the important plays.
With the game knotted, Madrid had plenty of time to attempt a good shot at the end of regulation but settled for a poor three-point attempt from Llull (23 points).
He missed and the game went to overtime.
With Barcelona trailing by three and just five seconds remaining in the extra period, Madrid looked home and dry.
They fouled Slovenia international Lorbek near midcourt.
After calmly sinking the first free-throw, the Slovenian intentionally missed the second.
Tomic grabbed the rebound and spotted an open Lorbek at the line.
Lorbek caught the pass and drilled a jumper as time expired to tie the game at 93-93 and send the game to a second overtime.
Baskets by the outstanding forward Pete Mickeal and then Lorbek put Barca in front to stay, although Llull conjured up some magic by hitting a running three-pointer in the final seconds to cut the deficit to 109-108.
Madrid fouled Marcelinho and he sank both free-throws and the game ended as Llull's desperation heave at the buzzer was off target.
Tomic, who spoke to FIBA.com earlier this year about his move to Barcelona, said after the win over Madrid: "Every game against them is a derby.
"The best game in Spain. There are no messages being sent (with the win), just a great rivalry. Each game (against them) is to enjoy."
As Barcelona's players and fans celebrated, Madrid's stars walked off the court wondering what had happened.
"We're gutted," said Madrid coach Pablo Laso, a former Spain international himself and MVP of the Copa del Rey in 1995 when he played for TAUgres.
"But there is a long way to go in the season."
Rodriguez was philosophical.
"Today we have played with a lot of desire, like we have during the entire league season," he said.
"But the Copa is the Copa and the beauty of it is that each day is like a final.
"Last year, it was us and this year, it's them."
Madrid beat Barcelona in last year’s Final.
It was just one cup game, with many more to be played all over the old continent this weekend.
But what a game it was!