Jayson Granger: It's crunch time in Istanbul!

Apr 25, 2017 by Jayson Granger - Istanbul, Turkey Print
Jayson Granger: It's crunch time in Istanbul!

So, we got what we initially wanted: a win in Greece and the series back to Istanbul for two more games. Game 2 was a very different one from the opener; we improved a lot, especially in terms of defense and rebounding. We allowed just 10 offensive rebounds in Game 2 after Olympiacos took 18 in Game 1. We played very physical and did not give up, which is important in any game, but in the playoffs in particular. We trailed for the better part of the game, but never thought it was over. That gave us a chance to win in the final two minutes. I scored around the basket to tie the game and found Alek Kirk for what ended up being the game-winning shot. I would have been happy to play only one minute if that guaranteed us a win. This win makes us really happy, but it is just the first of the three we need to make it to the Final Four. It was the team's work and this time I was fortunate enough to score and get an assist in crunch time. We played a very solid all-around game and gave ourselves the chance to do something great.

I guess not a lot of people expected Kirk to hit the game-winning shot, but that is one of the things that makes any team great: being unpredictable. We all know he can hit that shot! I can take you back to that play: I had the ball and had started to drive. At first, I wanted to shoot a floater, but then I saw him wide open and thought "wow, that is his shot, I had to give it to him!" It bounced around the rim a little bit, but ended up going in. Alex is a hard-working guy and he deserves this.

It was important for us to stay focused at all times, even when Vassilis Spanoulis was hitting one three-point shot after another, some of which beat the shot clock. We all know Spanoulis is a top-class player, but it was unusual for Olympiacos to hit that many three-point shots in the first half. We tried to keep contesting those shots in the second half and keep rebounding well to stay in the game, and we did. We are aware that Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis are great players and that Olympiacos runs its offense through them. They scored a lot in Game 2, but compared to the previous one, the other players did not hurt us that much. We were able to control the game, especially in the fourth quarter. We had a little bit of luck down the stretch, too, especially when Printezis missed a couple of free throws with the game tied.

We were anxious in Game 1 and I think that cost us the game. Things were not working well for us; we were not able to score and that caused us to be frustrated on defense, too. That didn't happen in Game 2, in which we managed to stay cool and focused. What I am trying to say is that the two games were very different from each other and I expect Game 3 to be different, too. Olympiacos is a tough team to beat on the road, but we will have our fans helping us and I hope they will be our sixth men on the court! We expect them to give a plus in this tough, physical game. I am sure we will have thousands of Efes fans in the stands. Two years ago, the arena was full in the playoffs against Real Madrid and I expect the same atmosphere, if not better! We now have a chance to close the series at home. Of course it will not be easy; both games will be really tough, but we play at home and must use that advantage.

We are aware that every time we play strong defense and rebound well on the defensive end, we have a better chance to win games. We are a very athletic, very physical team, so if we play good defense, it is easy for us to get going in transition. We have to play strong defense. We allowed almost 90 points in Game 1 against a team that doesn't reach those scoring numbers very often. In Game 2, we allowed 44 points in the first half and just 27 after the break. That is the right way and we all know it.

These are very intense times for us, the kind of intensity you want as a professional basketball player. Here we are, in the EuroLeague playoffs, against Olympiacos, with a chance to go to the Final Four. We were able to win in a great atmosphere in Greece. I believe Olympiacos has some of the best fans in Europe, and I expect our fans to help us a lot in Games 3 and 4. These are my first EuroLeague playoffs and of course getting to the Final Four is an extra motivation. Every game is a whole different world and at age 27, I already know how this works. The main thing is being focused and giving our best in every game.

The fact that all three Turkish teams are battling hard in the playoffs and all of us won on the road says a lot about basketball in this country. It has improved a lot in the last few years, with a lot of good teams. The Final Four is in Istanbul, so I am sure being there would be unforgettable for any Turkish team. When I joined Efes, I knew I would be part of an exciting project and it is paying off right now. Beating Olympiacos two more times will not be easy; we have to work really hard, but it is time for go for it. Efes fans, see you in Adbi Ipekci!