If you think of Anadolu Efes Istanbul's challenge for a spot in the Final Four this season, you will probably think of its explosive offense. Coach Ergin Ataman's team has been one of the best-performing offensive units in the EuroLeague all season, exceeding the 90-points barrier on no less than nine occasions – most recently in last week's crucial victory over fellow top-four candidate FC Barcelona Lassa – and ranking fourth in the competition in scoring with an average of 84.2 points per game.
On Thursday night, however, offense only played a secondary role as Efes claimed a crucial road victory at Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv to maintain its firm grip on fourth place – and potentially secure its place in the playoffs depending on Friday's results. The key to the 71-79 victory, without doubt, was Efes's ability to restrict Maccabi's offense, especially in the second half, which saw the home side only score 30 points. And that feat was even more impressive for the fact that Maccabi had won its previous seven home games, averaging 82.7 points in the process.
Coach Ataman revealed after the game that his team's defensive focus had been on stopping Maccabi's backcourt leaders Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Roll and that strategy certainly worked as the duo was held to just 8 and 2 points, respectively – way below their season averages of 13 and 9.5.
Efes’s defensive excellence was enough to secure Ataman's first-ever victory as a visiting coach at Menora Mivtachim Arena, but he is aiming for a much loftier goal than that: "I hope it isn't only the first win at Maccabi," he said. "Maybe it will also be the first EuroLeague title. I have a lot of confidence in my players."
If his team can keep on producing the same kind of hard-nosed defense they showed on Thursday night, maybe that ambition really will be fulfilled.