In the build-up to the Final Four, a common theme headlined by the media was Anadolu Efes Istanbul's lack of experience, with only two players – Vasilije Micic and Bryant Dunston – having previously appeared at a Final Four, and both only doing so once.
When the action started, though, Efes's "lack of experience" was not a problem at all. Despite going up against battle-hardened city rivals Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and the majority of the Fernando Buesa Arena crowd in an unfamiliar win-or-go-home environment, Ergin Ataman's team looked totally unfazed by the situation and proceeded to deliver an outstanding all-round performance.
Efes controlled all aspects of the first semi-final on Friday night, dominating the rebounding battle (43-25), shooting with accuracy (56.7% from two-point range and 43.8% from three), moving the ball well (only 9 turnovers committed) and showing great defense (73 points allowed) to deservedly march into the Championship Game. Not bad for such an inexperienced bunch.
But perhaps that wasn't so surprising because, when you think about it from another angle, Efes is a far from inexperienced team. The Turkish side came into the Final Four with seven players who had never played at the Final Four, but still with more than 100 EuroLeague appearances under their belts: Tibor Pleiss led the way with 186, followed by Dogus Balbay (155), Krunoslav Simon (147), Adrien Moerman (128), James Anderson (124), Brock Motum (112) and Rodrigue Beaubois (106).
Throw in Micic and Dunston, along with Shane Larkin's 67 EuroLeague games plus more than 200 in the NBA, and it becomes clear that this "inexperienced" Efes team is actually a tried and trusted group of players who know how to win – and who have been waiting for a long time to prove it on the highest stage of European basketball.
And Anderson, who played a central role in his team's victory with 10 points and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes on the floor, believes that long wait had provided an extra source of motivation.
"We were zoned in," he said after the game. "Of course, they had a lot of guys who were here plenty of times before, but I felt we are more hungry. We wanted it, and we were willing to do anything to reach it. It was kind of different for us, trying to stay zoned in on what we are here for and get a win…focus on the game, don't listen to the outside noise. And don't stop here. Enjoy this win tonight, but tomorrow get past it and get ready for a championship game."
Another element which must be taken into account is coach Ergin Ataman, who is anything but inexperienced after a two-decade coaching career which has yielded three league titles in Turkey and a EuroCup crown with Galatasaray and a Saporta Cup with Montepaschi Siena. He had also made the Final Four twice before, with Efes and Siena.
After so many years on the sidelines, Ataman knows what he is talking about and he saw his team's success coming, telling EuroLeague.net a couple of weeks before the playoffs that the supposed lack of experience within his roster would not be a problem.
"Maybe we don't have a team with Final Four experience," he said. "But the team has played many games that were like finals this season, especially in the playoffs against Barcelona, tight games with a big atmosphere. With every game we improved our basketball, and in the playoffs, all five games helped us to improve again. It was a very tough series against a team with a different strategy and very high adrenalin in every game. Every game was very aggressive, and we played a perfect third game to win by 34 points on the road. With games like that, my team has learned to play good basketball in a tough atmosphere under a lot of pressure.
"So I believe we have enough experience to play those big games."
How right he was.