It all comes down to Game 5 – and we will play at home, in front of our fans. The game has been sold out for a few days and the atmosphere will be amazing. During the EuroLeague regular season, one of our goals was to make it to the playoffs. Well, not just make the playoffs, but also get home-court advantage because that would give us more belief that we could be one of the four teams fighting for the EuroLeague title in Vitoria. How important is the home-court advantage in Game 5 of a playoffs series? Everyone believes it is very important and we will see very soon how important it is. One thing is clear - knowing that 15,000 people will be supporting us in a sold-out environment will give us energy and enthusiasm. It will be the biggest game of the season so far, no doubt about it!
We played really well in Game 3 in the series to reclaim the home-court advantage. Between Games 2 and 3, we had a couple of meetings and analyzed our opponent, FC Barcelona, very well.
"It will be the biggest game of the season so far."
We were able to successfully carry over to Game 3 everything that we worked on in practice. We started playing tough, physical and hitting all the open shots we had. We were able to find open shots even though Barcelona used a variety of defenses against us - zone, switching man, full-court press. We went to Barcelona immediately after losing Game 2 at home, so we knew we had to get at least one win at Palau Blaugrana to at least bring the series back to Istanbul. I believe that by winning the first game at their place, we took a crucial step - mainly because it wouldn't have been easy to come back from a 1-2 deficit in Barcelona.
Game 4 was a completely different story. They went from doing everything wrong on defense to doing everything right. We knew that Game 4 would be totally different than the others and that it was not going to be as easy for us as Game 3 was. We knew that with their backs against the wall, they would come out and play as hard as they could to win since it was their last chance. So it went on that way; they were tougher and obviously played better than us and tied the series. I cannot say we were surprised by their reaction; we knew they would react, but they played well and beat us.
Shane Larkin has been a big part of our team. We all trust him and believe in him. His ability to score and create for others definitely makes our job easier. His presence on the court in Game 5 will be crucial for our team.
As a player who has been here for many years and lost a couple of Game 5s with Efes in the past, it is definitely a motivation to be in this situation again. But this time, Game 5 is at home. We did see the light at the end of the tunnel twice and were very close to making it before, but lost against Olympiacos twice. This time, having the home-court advantage will help us more and give us a better opportunity and we will try to make the most of it.
"We are always comfortable playing in front of our great home crowd."
At this point, Efes and Barcelona have played against each other six times this season and four times in the last two weeks. Little details such as getting loose balls, taking care of the ball, not giving up on offensive rebounds and playing good defense against their pick-and-roll offense will be decisive in Game 5. Both teams are only one win away from the Final Four and that is obviously a big deal, so the more energetic and tougher team will stay alive, I am pretty sure. We will give everything we have to be that team and qualify to the Final Four. Having two teams from Turkey in such a big event for the first time would be amazing for Turkish Basketball. It would definitely be significant history to remember for a long, long time.
We are always comfortable playing in front of our great home crowd. They have been tremendous all year long and I know they will be even louder and hyped in such a historic opportunity for our club. These are the games that each player dreams to play in. It is do or die! You know all the work you put in all season can either get swept away or can carry you to the top.
This is a unique opportunity to finally make it to the Final Four and have a shot to win the best league in Europe, the EuroLeague. We've been really close to the Final Four twice and it was an exciting feeling. I am sure being a part of it would be an amazing experience.
Efes fans, see you at Sinan Erdem Dome on Wednesday night!