Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Real Madrid are each now one win away from the 2017 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four after winning in Istanbul on Wednesday. The EuroLeague Gurus examine the factors that led the teams to their respective Game 3 wins.
Madrid gets the most out of offensive balance
Unlike the first two playoff games, in which Darussafaka jumped out to big leads, Real Madrid had a different opening to this playoff contest. The visitors jumped into high gear from the get go and did not let a foot off the pedal for 30 minutes.
In his first start since Round 18, teenage sensation Luka Doncic was just as advertised early on: sensational. With exceptional ease, Doncic slalomed through Darussafaka’s paint for a layup and then nailed a pair of long-range triples. Along with Gustavo Ayon doing dirty work inside, Anthony Randolph also having a great start to the game, and Sergio Llull orchestrating things, Madrid scored 21 points in the first seven minutes led 11-25 late in the first quarter.
Darussafaka found little bit of its offensive rhythm, but struggled defensively, especially with its small lineup lacking a true big man. Madrid used it to grab 7 offensive rebounds from seven different players in the first half. And then there was Jaycee Carroll. One of the deadliest shooters in EuroLeague history, Carroll simply would not miss. He first hit back-to-back threes early in the second quarter and then made one that does show in a stat sheet; it was disallowed because of the offensive foul that preceded it. But it was not surprise that Carroll followed it a minute later by nailing a tough, long turnaround dagger than only the hot-hand shooters shoot – and make. Carroll then used Darussafaka’s defensive panic to draw a foul and sink free throws. His 11 second-quarter points helped Madrid keep control, and with such a balanced offense, Madrid is very hard to beat.
“With the exception of the fourth quarter, we did not defend anywhere near the level that we usually do or that we are capable of”, Darussafaka Coach David Blatt said. “They are too good of a team. If we defend like we did in the first half, we are not going to beat that team.”
Coach Pablo Laso’s men opened a 19-point lead with the same recipe in the third quarter and it turned out they needed every one of those once Scottie Wilbekin got hot and Brad Wanamaker got it going with Ante Zizic making plays inside. “We knew they will come back”, Laso explained. “We knew because they play at home, with the energy of the playoffs. They hit big threes and they came back. But the important thing is, we did not leave the game. We stayed mentally in the game, and we got it.”
Carroll and Ayon were especially big, both during the game, but also in the late stages. Carroll made all the difference by making his first 5 three-point attempts and thus killing any momentum Darussafaka could muster in the second or third quarter. “The tough shots he makes, you cannot do anything about”, Coach Blatt praised Carroll after the game. “You can only contest as well as you contest and try to make him shoot lower percentages, but you got to avoid him getting open looks. After offensive rebounds, on fast break, kick-outs on driving kicks when you lose concentration just for a second. Those are the ones you just can’t give them, and we gave him couple of those. And paid the price for them. He is such impactful player when he can get open looks, and making tough shots. And he was making boths of those.”
Ayon, meanwhile, worked hard in his fights to get in position inside the paint, and was rewarded by Llull, Doncic and Carroll with passes that allowed him close range baskets. One of the biggest plays of the night developed with Madrid up 74-80 with three minutes left in the game, Carroll got separation from his defender and made the move with the ball. The shots he previously made drew defense on him, but he was cool to dish a quick bounce pass for Ayon, who finished with an easy reverse layup. The visitors restored an 8-point lead and Darussafaka could not come back after that. It also showed how Madrid kept believing in its team game, which got Los Blancos to where they are in the first place.
“[Carroll] was very important for us, because he hit open jumpers and the team worked very good to look for those situation. But for me it is not important for a player to play good, but for a team to play good. And tonight a lot of players did a great job to win the game”, Laso was proud to point out after the Game 3 win.
Few turnovers, highlight plays key Efes victory
Anadolu Efes Istanbul came away with a crucial victory over Olympiacos Piraeus, but some of the numbers might tell a different story. The Reds outrebounded Efes 35-43 and held the hosts to an abysmal 2-of-18 on three-point shooting (11.1%). Overall, Olympiacos outpointed Efes 64-67 in accumulated performance index rating. Unfortunately for the visitors, they also bested Efes in turnovers, by committing 18, while the hosts made just 5. All those extra possessions allowed Efes to make up for most of its other deficiencies in the game, while the Olympiacos turnovers limited its abilities to impact the scoreboard.
Both sides readily acknowledged how important the turnover numbers were for each team. “We didn’t have a lot of turnovers, which is huge,” Efes forward Derrick Brown said after wards. “Olympiacos is a great defensive team, but we took care of the ball. We didn’t turn it over, so we got a lot of our possessions and I think that was key. We also played really good defense and came out with the win.”
“I believe that today we lost the game because of our offense,” Olympiacos head coach Ioannis Sfariropoulos summed up in the post-game press conference. “We didn’t make good decisions on offense; we didn’t read the defense well and until the 30th minute we were very passive and we didn’t move the ball a lot. When you play away and you keep the home team to 64 points, if you are a little better on offense you have chances to win the game. Unfortunately we didn’t have good production and we had 18 turnovers. This is a very big number for an away game and a lot of these turnovers were unforced, because of a lack of concentration.”
Another decisive, but sometimes difficult-to-measure factor is momentum. Efes took control with a 14-0 run to bridge the second and third quarters. And that run was full of highlight-reel and crowd-pumping plays. The score was tied at 27-27 in the second quarter when Efes finished the half on a 6-0 run. Brown got the crowd going with a two-handed put-back slam, which prompted an Olympiacos timeout to calm the crowd. It didn’t work as Bryant Dunston dunked for a 33-27 lead at the break. That momentum stayed in Efes’s veins for the start of the second half with Dunston scoring twice and adding a block. Thomas Heurtel added a steal and layup before leading a showtime fast break in which four players touched the ball and Brown finished with a slam.
That difference of 14 stood at the end of the quarter and the game appeared to be over. But history has shown that when Vasilis Spanoulis gets going late, anything is possible. He started with a pair of assists in a 0-9 run to bring the Reds within 53-49. Then, with Efes on its heels, Spanoulis started shooting. And each of his 3 three-pointers was more spectacular than the previous. His off-balance shot with 30 seconds left made it 61-60. After Heurtel made 2 free throws, Spanoulis attempted what would have been his most-impressive shot yet, but this time he was off target and Efes prevailed. However it just shows that when you make one spectacular play, another one could follow as it did Wednesday, to either break the game open or spark an improbable comeback.