Anadolu Efes Istanbul had lost all of a double-digit first-half lead and was playing cat-and-mouse after halftime on Friday with KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, a team desperate to change places with its hosts in terms of momentum.
Baskonia had just taken the lead at 59-60 midway through the third quarter when Efes captain Dogus Balgay returned to the court. Balbay quickly made a steal and scored 5 points in a row at 66-60. It was early in the fourth quarter when his next basket helped keep Baskonia at a distance, 82-73. While he went to the bench to rest, however, Baskonia crept back to within 88-83. Balbay returned with 2:30 left to hit another basket, then added an assist, a steal and a rebound down the stretch to make sure of his team's fifth victory in a row.
"We know that Baskonia is a hustling team that never gives up, but with Dogus's contribution, we broke the game, then we got more relaxed and started to play good offense," Efes head coach Ergin Ataman said after the 96-85 win. "Tonight he had a great game, with great hustle, leading the team like a real captain."
Thanks in part to his timely contribution – 11 points, a team-high 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in just 16 minutes on the floor – Efes now has the club's longest EuroLeague winning streak in more than five years. More remarkably, it's 8-2 record, good for a share of third place, is now one more victory than the team had in 30 games last season.
Balbay has spent his whole pro career, eight seasons, with Efes, and one reason he is team captain is because of his never-say-die approach to the game. He also has a sense of history, knowing that Efes has often come close to its goal, the Final Four, but never reached it in his time with the team. He would know, too, that Efes now has its best start to a EuroLeague season in 14 years. After all, Balbay did what was necessary on Friday to keep it going.