The focus at the 2021 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four switched on Saturday afternoon. After reflecting of Friday's two semifinals, the attention moved to Sunday's championship game with Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius and center Pau Gasol of FC Barcelona and Coach Ergin Ataman and All-EuroLeague guard Shane Larkin of Anadolu Efes Istanbul taking the stage at Lanxess Arena for a press conference. Here is what they had to say:
Sarunas Jasikevicius, FC Barcelona head coach
"Congratulations to both teams on making the finals. This is where we wanted to be in the beginning of the season so we feel very fortunate. We had a tough one yesterday, we have a chance to rest a little bit. Now we will start a preparation process for Efes, so we are looking forward to it."
"As I said yesterday, we have to improve a lot on defense. In the semifinal, we only defended well in one quarter, the last one when we held Milan at 11 points. I think Efes is even better, especially on offense. We have to be more physical and more focused. We have to make them uncomfortable, follow the game plan more and execute."
"I think the stakes are even higher. It is one level up. The opponent is better. It is probably the best two teams in the EuroLeague. The execution, your physicality, your mental preparation has to be higher. This is the highest it gets in European basketball. So you really need the right mentality and concentration. Execute, and be brave, go for it."
"Nick Calathes had some tests, he has nothing serious. I think it will be a game-time decision and we will decide whether he can play or not… The doubt surrounding Calathes affects our preparations. He's our brains on the court, he leads the team. During the season we had other injuries and had to put other players in his place. We have to count on the 'next man mentality'. If one is out, another has to play, but that's no excuse. We have to try to play well and win the game."
"I think that for being our first season together: a new coaching staff, a new group, as Pau said, he's been here just for a couple of months... Every battle is very important. Not only to win, but to learn. I think we prepared a game plan for yesterday and we managed to follow that many times, but we could not punish some things. They also got some advantages that they should have not gotten if you prepare well and you are focused. I liked a lot that when things got rough for us, we played more disciplined; our best defense was in the last quarter to make things work. As I always say, it's not only about winning or losing, but learning. We have now 48 hours more to learn and improve."
"We understand the times we’re living in. We have to look at the positive things in the world. We are very fortunate to be having a season. We are very fortunate to have a job. We went through the year with some difficulties but we did it. We have to be proud of that. Fans are such a big part of our lives. It’s a lot of fun to play in front of full arenas, there’s no question about that. The Final Four with this amazing arena would be incredible with 20,000 people, but it is what it is. Nothing we can control."
"[When Pau Gasol was drafted,] at that point you didn’t know what would happen. He was so young. There are so many young talented players coming into the NBA every year. What separates him is his mentality and the humility and work ethic. And that is exactly what we were hoping for when he was coming in. We knew it would take a little bit of time. He had not played in two years. We figured it would take some time before he feels the court and the team and understands the system a little bit. And he’s been a huge help."
"You have to think about the situation as a whole. In European basketball, you can take away one player. There are tactics that you can use and he won’t see the ball. But then the great teams have so many weapons that the other ones will come out and punish you even more. We have to understand it is a final and there will be difficult moments. There will be spurts. You have to take a timeout. You have to regroup a little bit. You have to come back stronger. And you have to continue going for 40 minutes. You have to make it as difficult as possible for the big players. We are just trying to take down the percentages here or there a little. That’s how the game will go. They will score and make tough plays. Just keep going at it for 40 minutes."
Pau Gasol, FC Barcelona center
"We are obviously excited about this opportunity. We played a tough game last night, and we're gonna have to prepare against a very good team in Efes."
"What I know about Efes is that they are the team we face in the final and they are one of the best teams in the competition, filled with great players. I could see them from a distance and now up close. They undoubtedly play great or else they would not be here. There are no secrets. It's a game, a final and we have to prepare well and play with focus, discipline, toughness and confidence in order to win."
"I am really excited about this opportunity. This is a great title to play for. I joined the team about two months ago, and I’m just really grateful for being here and being part of this great team and having a chance to win the EuroLeague title. I don’t have many games left after such a long career. So I just want to make sure I contribute and do my part and enjoy, enjoy this moment and get after it. This is a final and you have to play to win. We just have to do everything we can to give ourselves the best possible chance."
"Leandro [Bolmaro] is a great player with lots of potential. He's contributed many important things this season. I like his athletic abilities but also his personality. He's humble and willing to work and willing to learn. And that's the mentality, and the way to go if you want to become a special player. He's a great kid who has great potential and I hope he keeps helping us like he has been doing for the rest of the season."
"We played three Finals together but Kobe really didn’t say a whole lot. He just brought the mindset and the aggressiveness and the leadership on the court. It’s a different situation. We all understand what we are playing for. Both teams have worked hard to get here and have earned a chance to play in this final. And now it’s just go out there and compete and try to play better than your opponent and beat them. That’s what we’ll try to do. It’s a great opportunity. You just have to go after it and not waste it."
"I’m just trying to enjoy this and do my best. 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 the 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."
"Every challenge [in my career] has been different. Every moment in my life has been a little bit different. This one is definitely special. And I’m trying to take it in and do my best and to enjoy it and contribute to make it even more special by helping the team win a title. I can’t really rank my different challenges. We all have ours. But it’s definitely a special opportunity. I just want to enjoy it and do my best."
Ergin Ataman, Anadolu Efes Istanbul head coach
"[The] teams had tough semifinal games, but now we join in the final. For us, it is the second consecutive final after 2019. We are tired now, we did not have time to rest and for preparation yet. For sure we will do our best to prepare and play a good game. Good luck to Saras and Barcelona."
"I think that every game has a different history. Also during the season, it is correct that sometimes we won and lost games like this in the last quarter, but also we won many games with huge point differences. We are the best team in point difference in the EuroLeague. Yesterday in last quarter we made some very important mistakes, but with all due respect, Will Clyburn had an extremely great game, on the isolation especially, also Daniel Hackett. But I believe in my philosophy, every game is different, it has a different history."
"I believe that all teams that participate in this Final Four have the same pressure because everybody came here to win the title. It’s the same for us. Starting from the first day of the EuroLeague this season, we have had this pressure because last year we believed we also deserved to reach this level. But we didn’t have a chance because everything was canceled. Of course we have this pressure, but it’s been there every game in the EuroLeague. Every game in the regular season we played against Barcelona was like a final. So tomorrow will be one more game and the players will decide. Which team and which players have the best performance will win the title. Two great teams will be on the court tomorrow."
"We are so sorry for all the people who have gotten infected around the world during this pandemic. Many people have died. Many people have gone through very difficult moments - health, economy. Also in sports. We suffered through this. But now we will play the final. The conditions are like this. Maybe it would have been a better choice to play this Final Four somewhere we could have had fans. But the organization is very good. We will try to play our best basketball tomorrow. And our fans will join by watching on TV. I hope this will be the last final under these conditions in the EuroLeague."
"I think our system depends so much on our perimeter players. We play fancy basketball. We have star perimeter players. Shane Larkin has been the best player in the EuroLeague the last three seasons, Micic, Beaubois, Simon. 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. But if you are only an offensive team, you cannot reach this level. It’s both parts but I am happy because people enjoy playing 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."
Shane Larkin, Anadolu Efes Istanbul guard
"This is our goal to get to this point in the season, in the championship game. I am just extremely happy to be here, grateful for the opportunity. Good luck to both teams and looking forward to the game."
"You have to take every game one game at he time. In the final, it's going to be a different experience. It is one-game-takes-all, so defensive intensity on both sides will be important. So I expect them to be aggressive, we are gonna come out very aggressive. You play against a team certain amount of time in the regular season, it does not compare anything to the final. It is going to be a competitive game. I am just looking forward to it."
"The experience from 2019 was a great experience for our team. That was the first time a lot of us had been to the Final Four. We were grateful enough to play in the championship game. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. But it gave us the experience of knowing how to win those games, what it takes and the intensity you have to have and just the mental focus that you need to win some of those games. In terms of the lapses on offense in the games against Madrid, we just relaxed. Everyone is human and we just made some mistakes. But the biggest thing is to learn from those mistakes and try to not let them happen again. And I think we’ve done a better job of that. Obviously, yesterday was another one of those games, but each game is its own entity. We just have to continue to stay focused, not take any breaks, not relax, not get complacent and continue to push forward. And I think if we do that, we have a great chance of becoming champions."
"I’ve been in Europe for four years now and it’s definitely been the most competitive season that I’ve been part of. 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 on. The Final Four was 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 to become a champion on Sunday. You just have to go out there and fight and do the little things and hopefully, you come out on top."
"It wasn’t necessarily a Shane Larkin day. It’s an Anadolu Efes day. We won the game and reached the final. It really doesn’t matter to me if I score or don’t score. The winning is what’s important. I may not have had my best game yesterday, but as a team, we pulled through at the end and got the victory. That’s all that really matters. We have another chance to become a champion. And that’s what we’re here for."
"It’s always important for your coach to instill confidence in you. I know I’ve been here for three seasons and he’s given me a lot of confidence. He’s allowed me to grow and become the player that I am. He’s just given me ultimate freedom on the court. So hopefully tomorrow I will go back to my regular game and become a champion. At the end of the day, it’s not a single player that’s going to win the game. So all of our team - from one to 12 - will have to be ready to go out there and perform. It really doesn’t matter about one specific player. It’s just about winning a championship. It can be me, it can be Dogus Balbay. It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as we come out of it as champions. That’s all that matters to me. I’m going to go out there and be aggressive and try to be myself and try to win the championship."