Efes guards pave the way to championship game
Anadolu Efes Istanbul will play in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game for the first time after roaring past Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul 73-92 in the first semifinal at the 2019 Final Four at Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. Shane Larkin assaulted the record book with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists and Vasilije Micic scored a career-high 25 points to pace Efes. James Anderson added 10 points and Bryant Dunston posted 9 points and 10 rebounds for the winners, who tied a Final Four record with 14 three-pointers made and outrebounded Fenerbahce 25-43. Jan Vesely returned from injury to lead Fenerbahce with 14 points, Erick Green added 13 and Nikola Kalinic had 12 in defeat.
Fenerbahce started the game with Green, Ali Muhammed, Marko Guduric, Nicolo Melli and Ahmet Duverioglu. Efes lined up with Larkin, Micic, Krunoslav Simon, Adrien Moerman and Dunston.
Fenerbahce got the start it wanted by creating a mismatch, which Muhammed took advantage of by blowing by Dunston for a layup. Dunston got Efes on the board on the ensuing possession. Efes found its groove on defense and Larkin took charge on offense with an assist to Moerman for a triple before scoring 5 points of his own for a 5-11 advantage. Fenerbahce went to the bench first with All-EuroLeague stars Vesely and Kostas Sloukas coming in for Duverioglu and Muhammed at the 5:47 mark. Shortly thereafter, Simon was whistled for his second foul and Rodrigue Beaubois came in and scored on his first touch to make it 10-15 midway through the quarter. Green and Guduric drew Fenerbahce back within 1. Following the TV timeout, Green scored again and Vesely scored from the line to cap a 7-0 run that put Fenerbahce ahead. Moerman pushed Efes in front only to see Sloukas end the quarter with a three-pointer for a 20-19 edge. Micic took control of the Efes attack and pushed his team ahead 22-29 with 7 straight points. Fenerbahce went to a smaller lineup with Nikola Kalinic at the "4" and three guards in Sloukas, Muhammed and Melih Mahmutoglu. Back-to-back threes by the Sloukas and Muhammed ate up much of the deficit. Micic took a rest and Larkin kept Efes in attack mode. Sloukas and Simon each found themselves in foul trouble with 3 each. Larkin sent Brock Motum for a layup and a 34-40 edge. Vesely made his presence felt with a pair of baskets, including a slam.
Anderson thrilled the Efes faithful with a four-point play before Guduric free throws ended the half at 40-45.
Fenerbahce went with a big lineup that had Guduric at the "2" and Kalinic at the "3", however, there was no answer for Larkin, who stayed hot and pushed the Efes lead to 8 with his 4th three-pointer. Fenerbahce relied on its size to generate points inside, but Micic kept Efes in control. Every time Vesely scored inside, Efes answered through its guards. Then Dunston sank free throws on consecutive possessions to create the game's first double-digit lead, 55-66, with less than 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter. After a timeout, Larkin converted with a remarkable dive to the basket to beat the shot-clock and complete a 0-9 run. Green ended the Fenerbahce drought with free throws that made it 57-68 through 30 minutes. Micic started the fourth with his third three-pointer and added a layup – with a block by Anderson in between – which prompted a timeout by Fenerbahce at 57-73. Green and Sloukas revived the Fenerbahce attack, but Efes remained hot on offense. Tarik Biberovic came in as Fenerbahce sought a spark. It was to no avail as Micic and Larkin extended the margin into the 20s with 3 and a half minutes to go. Fenerbahce called a timeout and fought till the end. Vesely dunked, Micic committed an off-ball unsportsmanlike foul on Vesely and the latter made his free throws. Guduric and Green also scored, but time ran out for Fenerbahce and Efes celebrated at the final buzzer.
Larkin's history-making night
Shane Larkin compiled the highest performance index rating in a Final Four in recorded history with 43. He bettered the previous mark by 6. Trajan Langdon had 37 for CSKA Moscow in the 2010 third place game, The best PIR in a semifinal before Larkin's explosion was Ekpe Udoh for Fenerbahce two seasons ago. Larkin also tied his own club record in PIR. He tied his career-high with 7 rebounds and was 1 off his season-high in assists. His 5 three-pointers were 1 less than the Final Four record. He joined CSKA's Nando De Colo (2016) as the only players to have 30 points in a semifinal since the turn of the century.
Efes dominated the glass, outrebounding Fenerbahce 25-43. Coach Ataman's charges grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and turned them into 12 points. Fenerbahce scored a single second-chance basket in the entire game. Nicolo Melli was Fenerbahce's top rebounder with 4; Efes had five players with at least 5: Bryant Dunston 10, Shane Larkin 7, Adrien Moerman, James Anderson and Vasilije Micic 5 each.
Efes's impressive numbers
Efes had the highest PIR (113) and collected the most rebounds (43) of any team at the Final Four in five years. The rebounding total was also the second-most for Efes this season. The team tied a Final Four record with 14 three-pointers, which had previously been done three times.
Fenerbahce had kept it close for two and a half quarters. When Jan Vesely drew his team within 55-59 with three and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter, the though of a game finishing near a 20-point margin would have been absurd. However, James Anderson connected on a triple and then Bryant Dunston scored from the foul line on back-to-back possessions for Efes's first double-digit advantage. Fenerbahce called timeout, however Shane Larkin penetrated and dove past Vesely for a remarkable basket to beat the shot-clock and complete a 0-9 run for a 55-68 advantage. Efes remained in control the rest of the way.
Efes will play the winner of the second semifinal in Sunday night's championship game. Efes was swept by both teams in the regular season. Fenerbahce will play earlier Sunday in the third place game.
Touch of class
Even though Shane Larkin had taken apart their team, when he left the game finally with Anadolu Efes Istanbul having sealed the deal already, up 71-89 with 1:22 left to play, the Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul fans saw through their bitter disappointment to show a lot of class. As Larkin left the floor, many of them joined in the applause as true basketball fans who knew they had witnessed something special. For sure, the many Vitoria-Gasteiz fans in the audience were ready to applaud their former player, but when Fenerbahce fans got on their feet to join in praising Larkin, it was a sign of the true sportsmanship that characterizes the Final Four.
Friday, May 17, 2019