Credit: Giovanni Gagliardi, ZUMAPRESS.com - Scanpix, Emilio Cobos/acb Photo | Basketnews illustration/M.Bertys
Credit Giovanni Gagliardi, ZUMAPRESS.com - Scanpix, Emilio Cobos/acb Photo | Basketnews illustration/M.Bertys

Real Madrid captured the Spanish Liga Endesa title for the first time after a two-year break, and Walter 'Edy' Tavares was one of the main contributors to the trophy.

The big man from Cabo Verde took the Game 4 over and completely dominated anyone and anything in his way. Tavares scored 25 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, once tenaciously blocked Nikola Mirotic's layup, and amassed a whopping 41 PIR points in the final match of the series.

Tavares was quickly named the Finals MVP immediately after the game. The center averaged 13.25 points, 6.25 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks for 20 EFF during the series.

Under head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius, FC Barcelona were known for its ability to neutralize Tavares and exploit his weaknesses throughout the last two seasons. However, things were different in the ACB Finals this year.

Let's take a look at Edy Tavares' impact on Real Madrid's game, what changed from the past years, and how the giant from the island of Maio dominated against one of the better defenses in Europe.

Each point is illustrated by a video of selected episodes that show each of Tavares' ways of taking control of the series.

Center of Attention

Edy Tavares vs. Sertac Sanli
Edy Tavares vs. Sertac Sanli
Credit ZUMAPRESS.com - Scanpix

It is no secret that opponents' gameplan against Real often revolves around Edy Tavares - the ways to avoid his presence, options to stop his pick-and-rolls, plays to draw him out of the paint, and more.

Even without really tall and strong forwards and centers, Sarunas Jasikevicius is well-known as a master of stopping EuroLeague and ACB big men from dominating inside and outside the paint.

The main weapon of Real's center is clear - the pick-and-roll. Tavares is a master at this particular aspect of the game. Whether he's setting an immovable screen, slipping or faking the screen action, or short rolling to the side, Edy knows his way around the most basic play of basketball.

Points this season

46%
83,7
Points made: 83,7
Accuracy: 45,8%
Place in standings: 3
Record max: 99
Record min: 59
Best scorer: Guerschon Yabusele

With his size and skill, Tavares draws tremendous attention in pick-and-rolls. Standing at 2.21-meters, Tavares is a menace in the paint. Just lob the ball to him, and he'll be there somewhere - that's often the philosophy of Real's guards.

However, being the center of attention of the pick-and-roll action comes with side benefits for Tavares and the entire team. There were numerous moments throughout the series when Tavares drew so much attention from just being a threat for a lob that all the guard or forward with the ball had to do was just drive completely free to the basket and score a simple layup.

Tavares' big screens were a mystery for Barca players. Whether it's Guerschon Yabusele on a big-to-big screen stepping back for a jumper or Sergio Llull pulling up from deep after Edy's immovable pick, or Adam Hanga just simply driving to his right for an easy dunk - Real's game continues to roll even when Tavares doesn't get the ball during the pick-and-rolls.

The big man from Cabo Verde is a center of attention in more ways than just during pick-and-rolls, though. When he's with the ball on the elbow, every single Barca player looks at him.

From there, all kinds of good stuff happen. Even if Edy doesn't make a layup or hook shot, someone is often there to rebound the ball. Why? There were countless times when Barca's defenders took just a bit too much time focusing on Edy's actions and forgot their designated men. Both Yabusele and Gabriel Deck took multiple rebounds in that way.

In the dribble penetration situations, there were moments when Barcelona's help defenders were so focused on defending the lob or bounce pass to Tavares that their direct matchups freed up for an open cut or shot in the corner.

Of course, one could say that this falls on Barca, but Tavares' impact on his opponents' split-second decisions is undeniable.

A point center?

Edy Tavares looking for open teammates
Edy Tavares looking for open teammates
Credit ZUMAPRESS.com - Scanpix

We've already established that Edy Tavares draws the most attention for Barca players than anybody else on Real Madrid's team. After getting burned from surveilling Tavares' position on the court too much, Barca sometimes double-teamed Real's center.

This is where Tavares has improved over the years. Dating several seasons back, the key to stopping the big man was clear - don't allow him to get the ball near the paint, if he does, then double-team him. This was due to Edy's inability to read the situations at an elite level.

Tavares would often rush his decisions, eventually turning into lost possessions for the team. In fact, many centers struggle with this aspect in the early stages of their careers. Even prolific NBA big men like Jonas Valanciunas or Joel Embiid had difficulties with these situations during the first years of their respective careers.

This year, and especially during the last months, Edy Tavares has made huge strides in a positive direction in regards to dealing with double-teams and situations when forcing his way to the basket via pure strength is not the way to go.

During the series, each game featured some key moments when Tavares passed the ball out to the open teammates and did not force his way into the paint.

Back to the basket, and Gabriel Deck is cutting from the strong side to the basket? Quick pass and quick points. Receiving the ball near the free-throw line and the defender leaves a gap for Edy to shoot? You bet.

Tavares has improved this aspect of his game so much that there were numerous times during the semifinal series against Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz when the 2.21-meter center shot the ball from and around the free-throw line and comfortably made the jumpers.

As a result, opponents started to respect his shot a bit more than before, which opened up new possibilities for Edy to create points on the offensive end.

If Tavares gets the ball in the post and the double-team comes, we would only need one hand's fingers to count the number of times the episode ended in an ill-advised decision or a turnover.

Kick-outs to open shooters and passes to cutting teammates created many chances that didn't appear on the scoresheet for Tavares. There were many jumpers when the ball just didn't go in. Still, the fact remains that a center of Tavares' size distributing the ball better each year has a tremendous effect on Real's ability to the gameplan and on all of his teammates to contribute to the final result.

I'm Just Bigger

Credit ZUMAPRESS.com - Scanpix

We can talk all we want about Tavares' skill of passing to his teammates or starting to shoot free-throw-line jumpers after receiving the ball further from the basket. Sometimes all it comes down to is his enormous size.

Standing at 2.21-meters tall, the big man from the island of Maio has an enormous 2.36-meter wingspan - only Mo Bamba, Boban Marjanovic, and Tacko Fall possess a larger one in the NBA. Even Rudy Gobert, known for his long arms and size, falls short of such a number by several inches.

Being this tall and long, Tavares poses extreme difficulties for the opponent centers in Europe. Neither Brandon Davies nor Sertac Sanli nor Rolands Smits comes even close to being as big as Tavares, and they suffer the consequences of it during almost every offensive or defensive possession.

Even if he's boxed out, Tavares can take the rebounds off his defenders' heads. As a result, some heroic box-out matchups could be seen primarily from Brandon Davies, Mirotic, and Smits.

They would often use all their strength boxing Tavares out on missed free throws, or other missed shots that it would often take 10 or more seconds for the said player to fully get back on offense.

Numerous times Edy would just snag the ball with his long arms. One time, even when he was almost ideally boxed out, Tavares just slapped the ball with his right hand to his teammate for an offensive rebound.

We can talk about his length while rebounding the ball, but we have to address the elephant in the room as well. Edy is a top defender in Europe. Throughout the 35 games played in the EuroLeague season, Tavares accrued an elite 91.7 defensive rating, i.e., when he's on the floor, Real allows only 91.7 points per 100 possessions.

Tavares' size was felt throughout the series. Brandon Davies received a block during the first quarter of Game 1 when he aggressively tried to beat Tavares in the paint, and he was never the same during the finals.

The former Zalgiris Kaunas center often doubted himself in the paint after matching up against Tavares with some situations leading to shot clock violations just because he was afraid of Edy.

There were numerous times when multiple Barca players looked like they had a clear opportunity to shoot or drive but hesitated due to Real's big man being around. One clear example of such a situation was during Game 4 when three Barcelona players ran to a fast break against the lone Tavares, and nothing came out of the possibility.

All three players either retreated further away from the basket or stopped possessing a threat hiding behind the tall stature of Tavares. Another episode that clearly indicated Tavares' length and size also happened during Game 4.

Barca's superstar Nikola Mirotic was left one-on-one with the Cape Verdian in an isolation situation. He drove to the left and looked like he already had Tavares beat. However, the long-armed center swatted Mirotic's layup away like a father teaching his son manners.

There was one thing that helped achieve the episode that energized the entire WiZink Center - Edy's deceptive agility.

Deceptive Agility

Edy Tavares vs. Cory Higgins
Edy Tavares vs. Cory Higgins
Credit ZUMAPRESS.com - Scanpix

Even during his Zalgiris days, Saras knew how to set up Tavares for failure - draw him out of the paint, make him chase smaller guards and forwards, and use pick-and-pop action to take advantage of him being late on close-out situations.

While many of these things still hold true until this day, it is by far not to the level they used to be. Barca often used the Spanish pick-and-roll during the first two games of the series, where a Barcelona player sets a back-screen to Tavares when he's near the 3-point line defending a pick-and-roll.

This tactic limits the Tavares from his usual defensive strategy of giving the opponent some space but forcing him to either take the shot over his long reach or drive to the basket hoping to go by the slower big man.

While there were several successful episodes of Barca using the Spanish pick-and-roll effectively, Real would often neutralize it by rotating other players from the help side to the main side.

Real's main strategy during the series was taking advantage of the team's size. The 1.96-meter Fabien Causeur was often the smallest guy on the court, with defense-oriented Adam Hanga, sturdy Gabriel Deck, and strong-bodied Guerschon Yabusele occupating the starting five besides Tavares.

Real would then switch everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Tavares would end up defending Rokas Jokubaitis, Nick Calathes, Kyle Kuric, Nicolas Laprovittola, Cory Higgins, and nobody from the Royal club would bat an eye. 

More than his shooting, Tavares' footwork has taken a leap throughout the past several years. Several seasons ago, Edy was known as a really big guy capable of blocking shots, hence his Sergeant Swat nickname.

Now, he's capable of squaring up face-to-face with smaller guys in mismatch situations without much difficulty.

There were several examples when Higgins would drive to the basket comfortably just for his shot to be either blocked by Tavares or affected in a way that would stop the offensive possession. Nick Calathes was the guy who Edy encountered the most on switches during the series.

Not being a capable and confident shooter, Calathes struggled with Tavares' size. Along with Barca's points guards, he had difficulties taking advantage of the mismatch. Having improved his footwork, Tavares would efficiently rotate and block the ball path of a possible pass to a Barcelona big man.

Even though Jokubaitis beat Tavares several times with pull-up jump shots in one-on-one situations, other times, he would struggle to find a decision on the offensive side of the ball, and the attacks would finish in a highly-contested shot or an ill-advised decision by a Barca player.

One time, Calathes tried to pass the ball to a trailing Davies after a switch on Tavares just for the ball to hit the rim due to the size of Real's center. Edy's orderly rotations and very few bites on pump fake forced Barcelona to take different routes on their set plays.

Tavares kept up with all Barca's guards on switches, which significantly eased Real's defensive rotations. 

The Pure Strength

Edy Tavares vs. Rolands Smits
Edy Tavares vs. Rolands Smits
Credit ZUMAPRESS.com - Scanpix

Height, length, improved basketball IQ, much better footwork - only one thing is left. His mammoth strength.

Neither Davies nor Sanli nor Smits were a match for Tavares in the paint. Even when Barca's rotations were efficient, and the main defender was in a well-rounded position to stop the big man from Cabo Verde from scoring, he would often just bully his way to the basket.

It was mostly seen during Game 4, during which Tavares scored 25 points, making all but two of his 11 shots and converting all seven of his free throws. He drew 20 fouls during the series, an average of 5 per game.

Although sturdy in his frame and mobile on his feet, Rolands Smits often struggled with Tavares. With almost no other choices, Smits received an unsportsmanlike foul trying to stop the Cape Verdian from scoring in the paint during Game 1.

Playing with an injured ankle, Sertac Sanli was a liability on defense for Barcelona, unable to match the strength of Tavares. Whenever he received the ball in the post, the situation would either end up in a foul or a quality scoring opportunity for Real.

After grabbing another offensive rebound, Tavares just bullied past Mirotic one time, then past Davies the other, while Smits picked up several fouls in and-one situations. Tavares would often seal his defender in the paint with his huge frame, and all Barca players were left to do was foul the big man.

Besides the usual strength, the other kind of strength must be mentioned when talking about Tavares - cardiovascular strength. Compared to other big men of his stature, the Cape Verdian has tremendous stamina.

There were multiple times during the season when he played 30+ minutes, a feat that is achievable only once or twice per season for similar guys like Moustapha Fall.

For example, Tavares played 32+ minutes in the EuroLeague 9 times during the 2020-21 season, with the record standing at 40 minutes and 48 seconds against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. For reference, Moustapha Fall has played one 30+ minute game in his entire career.

Combining all his skills, length, strength, and footwork with exceptional stamina, we get a player that's a menace to any other team in Europe. Barcelona felt Tavares' impact to the fullest during the Liga Endesa Finals. Neither of Barca's players could even limit the Real's big man.

Tavares had an average plus-minus rating of 11.5 during the series, with only Gabriel Deck even scratching the surface with an average of 9.75.

Tavares impacted the game in many more ways than usual. He was the Finals MVP, and he was absolutely worth it.

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Walter Tavares

Walter  Tavares
Walter  Tavares
MIN: 21.76
PTS: 10.26 (69.49%)
REB: 7.07
As: 0.98
ST: 0.55
BL: 1.9
TO: 1.17
GM: 42