The top scorer in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague this season is tipping Anadolu Efes Istanbul to taste glory in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game on Sunday night.
Mike James of AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, who was in Vitoria-Gasteiz on Friday to receive the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, played against both finalists, Efes and CSKA Moscow, twice this season, and watched live as both won their semifinals on Friday.
Efes booked its place in the grand finale by thrashing Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul 92-73, and James believes the Turkish team's momentum could provide the edge in Sunday's showdown with CSKA. But he also thinks it will be close.
"I've got a feeling that Efes is going to win," he said. "It just seems like it's one of those seasons for them. But it's going to be a close game, and it depends on the small things that happen in the game. Whoever has the better shooting day will probably win."
James was speaking to EuroLeague.net after receiving his award during the semifinal between CSKA and Real Madrid on Friday night.
After watching the two semis from the VIP seats at Fernando Buesa Arena, James admitted he was hugely impressed with Efes's performance, saying: "I think Efes came out a little nervous at first, but when they got settled in and started moving the ball, they were very good and made their shots. That's always big in Final Four."
The second semifinal saw CSKA mount an outstanding fourth quarter comeback to overcome Real, and James believes the Spanish side will be kicking themselves for letting the game slip through their fingers.
"Real kind of blew that one," he said. "It's rough, but if you're complacent and take your foot off the pedal, they can come back at any time. Everybody's playing for their lives so you've got to put people away when you get ahead."
The two semifinals featured stellar performances from two players who – like James – are among the best scorers in the competition: Nando De Colo of CSKA and Shane Larkin of Efes.
"Shane looked like he was in rhythm right from the tipoff," enthused James. "He was making shots and making things happen right away. Nando took a little bit longer but he's real good – once he gets in rhythm, he's gonna do what he's gotta do."
James was presented with his Top Scorer Trophy after a superb season with AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, averaging 19.8 points per game – 5.0 points per game more than any other player in the league.
Although he was proud to receive the award, James admitted it came with a tinge of disappointment as he said: "I would have much rather made the playoffs. It's good that I had an alright season and hopefully the team will be better next year. It would have been better if we'd made the playoffs and I was actually playing here, but you've gotta take what you can."
Milan is in the middle of Italian League playoffs so James was unable to stay for the whole weekend in Vitoria-Gasteiz, but he explained why he was determined to take time out of his busy schedule to receive the trophy in person.
"I think when you win an award you should show up and get it yourself," he said. "Euroleague Basketball does a great job of putting on the competition all year, and this is like a 'thanks' from me to show up and collect the award."