If anyone wondered if Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, the best team in the regular season, had another level to step up, they got the proof on Tuesday night. Fenerbahce welcomed Zalgiris Kaunas to the Asian side of Istanbul and showcased its best-ever defensive performance to open the best-of-five series with a resounding 76-43 victory.
As if Fenerbahce was not dominant enough at home already. Becoming the first team to win all 15 home regular season games and currently riding an 18-game winning streak on its court, Fenerbahce is also a perfect 8-0 at home under head coach Zeljko Obradovic in the EuroLeague Playoffs.
Early on, it actually looked as if Fenerbahce might be in trouble. With Joffrey Lauvergne out, Jan Vesely and Nicolo Melli each had 2 personal fouls only 6 minutes into the game. With his team down 9-13, coach Obradovic called a timeout and then sent out a lineup with Ahmet Duverioglu along with Nikola Kalinic and Luigi Datome.
The trio closed down all the lanes to the hosts' basket, while Kalinic got the team going offensively. Zalgiris scored just 8 points in the final 12 minutes and 46 seconds of the half. When Ali Muhammed and Marko Guduric started, knocking down triples, Fenerbahce put together a 15-2 run for a 17-point halftime lead and Zalgiris never came close in the last two quarters.
Fenerbahce's aggressive defense never allowed Zalgiris to get anything going offensively, forcing 23 turnovers while holding the visitors to a mere 13-for-31 shooting on two-pointers (41.9%) and 3-for-16 (18.8%) on threes.
"I for sure did not expect such a performance from my team because Zalgiris is a very good team," Coach Obradovic admitted afterward. "Zalgiris plays very good and has a lot of talented players. This is not a normal game from Zalgiris, it just happened tonight."
His team did hold Zalgiris to just 43 points in a playoff game, setting some records in the process. It was the second-fewest points allowed in the playoffs this century behind only 41 scored by Montepaschi Siena against Olympiacos Piraeus eight years ago. It was also the fewest points Zalgiris scored in a EuroLeague game this century. And 43 is the fewest points Fenerbahce ever allowed in the competition.
It also marked the largest margin of victory for Fenerbahce ever in the EuroLeague Playoffs, beating the previous record of 22 against Real Madrid in 2016. It was also the fourth biggest win for Fenerbahce ever.
Meanwhile, Zalgiris fans will hope history can repeat itself because when Siena scored 41 points in a 47-point loss to Olympiacos in Game 1, it won the next three games to win the series and make the Final Four. However, Obradovic will not allow himself or his team to be caught by surprise.
"I told my players, it can be a 1, 11 or 20 point-difference, it is all the same," Obradovic stressed. "It is just 1-0, we have to forget this to prepare ourselves tomorrow because Zalgiris will play a different game on Thursday."