In a short but pivotal month of February, no Turkish Airlines EuroLeague team made a bigger move in the standings by beating direct competitors than Anadolu Efes Istanbul. And no player was more instrumental in his team's perfect record this month than Efes playmaker Thomas Heurtel, who is EuroLeague Basketball's choice for MVP of February. With Heurtel averaging a double-double off the bench, Efes defeated two higher-placed teams among its three February wins to jump from just outside the playoff zone to solidly inside it. He was the driving force that made Efes the EuroLeague's best team this month in both scoring and assists, not only leading his team in points, but setting up his teammates with one great pass after another. In so doing, Efes overtook two key competitors for the playoffs and is breathing down the neck of a third. If its February momentum ultimately leads Efes into the playoffs, Heurtel's fingerprints will be all over that success.
The MVP of the Month honor is now in its 13th season. Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team's performance. The award for February was based on the three regular season games that all teams played during the month.
Efes opened February on the road against the hottest team in the competition, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, which had a seven-game winning streak and led by 18-12 shortly after Heurtel entered the game late in the first quarter. By halftime, however, Heurtel had 9 points and 6 assists as Efes led 36-47 and never looked back on the way to a 72-86 victory. Heurtel finished with 12 points and 15 assists, the latter matching both his career best in 132 EuroLeague games until then and the highest single-game total in the competition this season. At home against EA7 Emporio Armani Milan the next round, Efes trailed 5-21 when Heurtel entered and scored 5 points in a row, sparking a long comeback that was completed with his three-point play at 85-85 with less than 2 minutes left. He iced the game with late free throws as Efes held on to win 90-86 and Heurtel finished with team-highs of 17 points and 6 assists. Efes was still behind Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz in the standings when the latter visited Istanbul for a Round 23 clash to close the month. Heurtel paced Efes with team-highs of 21 points and 11 assists in 27 minutes of a 96-85 victory. It marked the team's second three-game winning streak of the season and moved Efes ahead of Baskonia into seventh place on tie-break points between them. Likewise, Efes is one victory from moving into sixth place after having beaten the team now there, Zvezda, twice this season. When all was said and done, Heurtel averaged 16.7 points, 10.7 assists and a performance index rating of 23 in February, ranking sixth, first and fourth in those categories, respectively, among all EuroLeague players during the month.
Heurtel becomes just the third Efes player to be named MVP of the Month in the 13-year history of the award, following Kaya Peker in the 2005-06 season and Dario Saric two years ago. Both of them won in November, however, while Heurtel led the charge in the crucial month of February, which has given Efes playoff position with seven games left, of 30 total, in the most demanding season in EuroLeague history. For that, Efes fans will be sure to show their thanks when Heurtel receives his award at an upcoming home game.