Ever since Zeljko Obradovic took over as Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul's head coach, he has set the bar for excellence very high. Five consecutive Final Fours and appearances in the last three championship games are proof of the team's great ambitions, but this season Fenerbahce outdid itself.
After coming up just short in the championship game against Real Madrid last season, Fenerbahce rolled into the current season with the core of the team intact, led by All-EuroLeague big man Jan Vesely, Kostas Sloukas, Luigi Datome, Ali Muhammed and Nikola Kalinic. The club brought in just two newcomers during the off-season, guard Tyler Ennis and big man Joffrey Lauvergne.
Things started splendidly, as Lauvergne scored in double figures on opening night and Fenerbahce won its first three games, including a visit to the team it beat in the semifinals at the previous Final Four, Zalgiris Kaunas. However, the team's plans suffered a blow when Ennis broke his leg, and then Fenerbahce lost its first game, against crosstown rival Anadolu Efes Istanbul.
Within a week, Fenerbahce signed Erick Green in Ennis's place and started a monster 12-game winning streak that included a pair of narrow road wins, in Vitoria-Gasteiz and Piraeus, and a late victory at home against Real. At the midway point of the regular season, Fenerbahce was riding high at 14-1, with two more wins than second-place Real.
Even though more losses cropped up in the second half of the season, Fenerbahce never fell out of the top spot. Part of its drop in form coincided with injuries to Lauvergne and Vesely. Nonetheless, with a Round 22 rout of Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, Fenerbahce became the earliest team ever to clinch a playoff berth. Two rounds later, it gained revenge for its first defeat and locked up a top-four finish – worth home-court advantage in the playoffs – by torching Efes at home.
Not only did Fenerbahce became the first team under the competition's current format to notch a perfect 15-0 regular season home record, but it also finished 25-5 overall, the most wins ever at the end of the phase. Fenerbahce made that happen by leading all teams in both two- (59.0%) and three-point (43.2%) shooting accuracy while allowing a league-low 75.8 points to opponents in the regular season.
In the playoffs, the hottest team in the competition awaited. Fenerbahce jumped ahead of Zalgiris with a record blowout of 76-43 in Game 1. Zalgiris stunned their hosts with a Game 2 win, which was Fenerbahce's only home loss of the season. However, that defeat refocused Fenerbahce, which went to Lithuania to take care of business, ending the series in four games.
Fenerbahce heads to Vitoria-Gasteiz with an experienced lineup that features nine players from its 2017 title-winning squad. From October to May, Fenerbahce has proven itself to be talented, deep, tough and hungry. Supremely efficient on offense and suffocating on defense, Fenerbahce is a force to be reckoned with for anyone else with eyes on the ultimate prize.
Road to Vitoria-Gasteiz
1. Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul started the season with three victories, the third being a foreshadowing road win at Zalgiris Kaunas, 75-82, thanks to 20 points by Kostas Sloukas.
2. In Round 5, Fenerbahce bested FC Bayern Munich to start a 12-game winning streak that included six victories against five eventual playoff teams.
3. With an 85-66 home win over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in Round 22, on February 8, Fenerbahce became the earliest team ever to qualify for the playoffs.
4. Fenerbahce beat Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv in Round 30 on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Sloukas to finish with the best regular season record in EuroLeague history, 25-5.
5. Ali Muhammed was the catalyst as Fenerbahce, after losing Game 2 of the playoffs at home to Zalgiris Kaunas, won the next two away to take the series and advance to a fifth consecutive Final Four.