Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Real Madrid will face each other in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game for the first time, but they have played many meaningful games in the recent past.
Real and Efes's budding rivalry
Real and Efes faced off in a EuroLeague Playoffs series in 2021 that could not have been more entertaining. Efes had the home-court advantage in the series and hosts Real for Games 1 and 2. Los Blancos were without injured big men Anthony Randolph and Felipe Reyes. Gabriel Deck had left the team at the end of the regular season and Real struggled in both games in Istanbul. Efes thrashed Los Blancos in the opener, 90-63, behind 19 points from Rodrigue Beaubois. Walter Tavares was injured late in that game and did not return until Game 5. In the meantime, Vasilije Micic scored 23 points to lead Efes to a 91-68 rout in Game 2.
In Game 3, free throws by Micic gave Efes a 64-76 lead with 4 minutes left. It appeared that the series was over, but Los Blancos fought back. Alberto Abalde, Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull and Trey Thompkins each struck from downtown in a 16-0 run that Usman Garuba closed with a game-sealing put-back. Efes regrouped in Game 3 and led 61-72 with 7 minutes remaining. Real needed another double-digit, fourth-quarter comeback and delivered again. Garuba had 10 of his career-high 24 points in a final 21-8 run which allowed Real to win the game, 82-76, and tie the series. Against all odds, Real had forced Game 5 at Sinan Erdem Sports Hall.
Tavares was back in action for the decider, which went down to the wire. Tavares tied the game at 80-80 with a minute left and it could have gone either way. Krunoslav Simon made the difference with the biggest play of the entire series. He beat the shot clock with a long step-back three-pointer. After Llull missed a three-pointer at the other end, Chris Singleton and Micic sealed the outcome from the foul line. It was an outstanding finish to a truly special playoffs series.
After that series, Real and Efes faced each other twice in the current campaign. In the teams’ season opener, Real defeated Efes 82-69 behind 18 points each from newcomers Thomas Heurtel and Guerschon Yabusele. In Round 31, almost six months later, Efes edged Real 93-90 behind 29 points from Micic.
The 2022 championship game is the latest chapter in this budding rivalry. It is the moment of truth for both and only the winner will walk away satisfied.