Ideally, for him and the rest of German basketball, Johannes Voigtmann of CSKA Moscow would be headed to Sunday's final game to face the country's other Final Four big man, Tibor Pleiss of Anadolu Efes Istanbul, who grew up in the Final Four host city of Cologne. That way, one German player would already be assured of becoming the first EuroLeague champion from the country since Patrick Femerling with FC Barcelona in 2003.
Alas, CSKA's final shot missed on Sunday and Voigtmann will play the third-place game against AX Armani Exchange Milan, but he readily confessed that he will be pulling for Pleiss later Sunday evening when Efes goes against FC Barcelona for the EuroLeague trophy.
"We haven't had a EuroLeague title-winner in Germany for a long time," Voigtmann. "I know that it's going to feel special for Tibor. I heard his post-game interview yesterday. And even though he didn't play, he was obviously very emotional because this is the city he was born near and grew up in and where took his first basketball steps. So, I can just imagine how he must be feeling for him to play this game tomorrow, and I'll root for him. I hope that he's going to lift the trophy tomorrow."
Ergin Ataman: 'We find ways to win'
Anadolu Efes Istanbul head coach Ergin Ataman has been praised more than once for his team's free-flowing offense. What gets less attention is the fact that Efes had the fourth-ranked EuroLeague defense coming into the Final Four, a discrepancy that he addressed at Saturday's championship game press conference.
"We play fancy basketball," he said. "We have star perimeter players. Shane Larkin has been the best player in the EuroLeague the last three seasons. Micic was the best one this season. Beaubois and Simon, as well. We play a running game. I give the players freedom, especially on offense. And for this, I think everybody thinks it's more an offensive team, but our offense starts from our defense. We need to have good defense to find early fastbreak and transition points."
In fact, Efes didn't have the EuroLeague best offense; that belonged to CSKA. Defense is a big reason why Efes owns the best point differential of all 18 teams this season. Nonetheless, Ataman does not begrudge the general fan's tendency to overlook that aspect of the game when watching his team.
"If you are only an offensive team, you cannot reach this level: it's both parts," he said. "But I am happy because people enjoy our basketball. Our players enjoy playing together. They share the ball. In every game, we have different stars, but we find ways to win. Like yesterday, Larkin didn't score but I am sure that he will be the player to win the EuroLeague for us."
Pau Gasol: 'Hopefully, Kobe will be watching'
Barcelona legend Pau Gasol took time out between the playoffs and the Final Four to pay tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, his friend and former teammate, by attending the latter's posthumous induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Gasol was asked in a couple of questions at Saturday's championship game press conference about what he learned from Bryant in do-or-die situations such as the one he will face on Sunday when Barca plays Anadolu Efes Istanbul for the EuroLeague title.
"We played three Finals together but Kobe really didn't say a whole lot," Gasol said. "He just brought the mindset and the aggressiveness and the leadership on the court."
Gasol and Bryant played one do-or-die Game 7 in the NBA finals to win their second title together in 2010. One thing Gasol said he learned from Bryant was to always be himself on the court.
"I'm just trying to enjoy this and do my best," he said. "Kobe played as hard as he could. He was always himself until the very last game, as we all saw. I'm just going to try to be me and try to complement what my coach and teammates need. That's all I'm trying to do here. This is a special opportunity. He was one of the greatest players ever. Hopefully, he'll be watching."
Shane Larkin: 'The most competitive season'
Coming off the night with the closest semifinals ever – a difference of 5 points in the two games on Friday – following the tightest regular-season standings and the most Game 5s in the playoffs ever in the EuroLeague, Anadolu Efes Istanbul star Shane Larkin said at Saturday's championship game press conference that he's expecting his team's Sunday matchup for the title to follow the same extremely competitive narrative that has characterized the EuroLeague season until now.
"I've been in Europe for four years now and it's definitely been the most competitive season that I've been part of," he said. "The playoffs were extremely challenging for most teams. Most teams went to a Game 5. And it's just been a very challenging season. There have been a lot of different adversities that you've had to deal with. And I think it's going to continue. The [semifinals were] extremely difficult for both teams. Both games came down to the wire and I expect the same thing on Sunday. They're a great team, we're a great team. They deserve to be here, we deserve to be here. Both teams will do everything they can do to become a champion."
Saras says Calathes injury not serious
With the continent's top trophy sitting between them, the protagonists of the 2021 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game met an enthusiastic media contingent on Saturday, a little more than 36 hours before FC Barcelona and Anadolu Efes Istanbul face off for the title on Sunday at Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany.
Both news and humor came from the participant with the most Final Four experience, Barca head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius, who said that his start point guard, Nick Calathes, might be able to play in the championship game after limping off with an ankle injury late in a semifinal win on Friday against AX Armani Exchange Milan.
"Nick had some tests, he has nothing serious," he said. "I think it will be a game-time decision and we will decide whether he can play or not."
Jasikevicius also supplied a note or two humor, saying that he had not rewatched his team's close victory over Milan, won on a last-second shot from Cory Higgins.
"I have watched the CSKA-Efes semifinal," he said, "but when you give up 29 points in one quarter' – as Barca did to Milan – 'I'd better not watch our game."
He was also reminded of being in watching in person as Pau Gasol, his former teammate then and his partner on the dais on Saturday, get booed after being chosen third overall in the 2001 NBA draft.
"I just happened to be in New York at the time and called up Pau to see if me and one of my buddies could get into the draft and watch him get booed in New York," Saras joked. "Free tickets are always appreciated for the big events, you know."