The two best teams in EuroLeague closed out the Regular Season Round 21 in one of the most anticipated games of the season. The first-placed Anadolu Efes and the second-placed Real Madrid clashed on Friday night in WiZink Center, Madrid. In the end, it was the visiting team who got arguably the most memorable W of the season, while ending a 15-year drought.
Anadolu Efes Ended the 15-year Drought against Madrid
Real Madrid started the game better, though. Its formidable defense led by Facundo Campazzo got Madrid an 8–point lead in the minute. Campazzo’s two steals from Shane Larkin in the first three minutes signaled a rough start for Anadolu Efes. After that, Larkin went berserk on Real defense, but we’ll get to that.
Edy Tavares, the rock on the defense, stayed level with the screen in the pick-and-roll, thus prevented any dives or drives to the hoop through his gigantic arms and stature. Two teams had a similar approach to P&R defense. Efes, when generating a chance to lay it in, missed easy shots around Tavares in the first quarter. On the other end, Campazzo facilitated out of the pick-and-roll, taking advantage of Larkin having lost on the screens and Efes having to rotate to the paint.
In the opening four minutes, after Campazzo stripped the ball twice, Ergin Ataman opted to call sets where Rodrigue Beaubois or Krunoslav Simon were making the plays. Maybe he wanted to draw advantages from their less quick defenders, respectively Jaycee Carroll and Jeffery Taylor. But in the end, a human wall was what Efes ran into, as it was the case when the opponent is Real Madrid.
Doğuş Balbay checked into the game to replace Beaubois with six minutes to go in the first quarter, and this was the first significant move Ataman did to affect the outcome. He immediately started to guard Campazzo, moving Larkin on Carroll. The feisty defender threw a monkey wrench in Real Madrid offense. Throughout the game, Campazzo missed all three of his shots with a turnover when guarded by Balbay. At the same time, Taylor took on the duty to guard Larkin, and he was too big and too slow to fight through the screens and overwhelm him. Efes balanced things out when Larkin found the spaces to operate.
The Chess Game Intensifies
But Real Madrid is too good a team to surrender after one move. Coach Pablo Laso brought Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernandez, Jordan Mickey, and Trey Thompkins off the bench. This is how deep Real Madrid roster is. More options meant more points and better ball movement for the hosts. Especially Mickey picked up where Tavares left off. His quick feet and athleticism put Efes bigs under pressure.
But there are two areas the Spaniards didn’t succeed, especially in the second quarter: Felipe Reyes got often exploited down low by Adrien Moerman, and the overwhelming perimeter defense at the beginning of the game had gone, due to unfavorable changes in defensive assignments from the point of Coach Laso. Efes’s playmaking duo, Simon and Larkin, was operating on the pick-and-roll and isolations, and therefore, Anadolu Efes was up by three (40-43) after 20 suboptimal minutes of basketball. Six treys out of 12 attempts have helped Efes’s cause hugely, while Madrid did the damage underneath the rim, as Mickey and Tavares had 14 points in total on (6/7) shooting.
Panic! at the WiZink
Mishandled the defensive assignments after the first five minutes, Laso put Campazzo on Larkin to start the second half. It didn’t matter much, as Larkin usually got the ball on the move. So, he didn’t see the guy who defended him the best in the game directly in front of him. The chess game continued between the coaches, and Coach Ataman seemed to have the upper hand. Yet, Anadolu Efes saw another obstacle before the win, and that was mental. In one of the toughest arenas to play and against the best defensive team in the league, Efes signaled panic and made mistakes arising from miscommunication. Given that Madrid started to make more contact on the defense, it was inevitable that the offenses came close to a halt in the third quarter.
Anadolu Efes Has Free Throws… And Shane Larkin
Anadolu Efes went up by nine (55-64) at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Real Madrid fired back with Llull and Rudy. And there came the moments Larkin went berserk. He slashed through the hoop after the screen, making Tavares the Sergeant Swat seem like a regular Joe racing against Barry Allen. Real Madrid found yet another way to stay alive.
Tavares, as a response, started to bait Efes players into penetrating to the hoop, only to block shots. But everything he or the impeccable Madrid defense could do wouldn’t be enough to contain Larkin. Plus, six free throws Efes took in the fourth, completing the total of 23 free throws throughout the game, made the difference between winning and losing. Real Madrid got outshot 23-6 in free throws, and 20 extra points from the charity stripe hurt the Spaniards.
Larkin scored 32 on 14 shots, including 11 in the fourth, to go along with three rebounds, four assists, one steal, and the 80-75 road win. His index rating of 36 meant the US-born point guard became the first player to have won four straight MVP of the Round awards. Last week, he became the first to win three straight MVP of the Round awards.
Meanwhile, Anadolu Efes snapped its 12-game losing streak in Madrid, dated back to January 26, 2005. Also, Coach Ergin Ataman has won in Madrid for the first time in his career. All in all, this game will have a place in Anadolu Efes’s 2019-20 season review.