Anadolu Efes Istanbul came into its Round 9 game against Khimki Moscow Region after a heartbreaking home loss against FC Bayern Munich less than 48 hours earlier. It was its fourth loss in eight games, but Efes bounced back in style, playing arguably its best game of the season to beat Khimki 77-105.
Those 105 points were a EuroLeague season-best and the fifth-best scoring night for the club in the competition, not far from its record - 110 points against Olympiacos Piraeus in a regular-season game on December 9, 2014.
Efes converted 23 of 31 two-pointers and that 74.2% was its fifth-best mark in the competition. Efes also hit 14 of 27 three-pointers (51.9%), getting 25 assists and just 10 turnovers. That allowed Efes to finish the game with a team PIR of 139, its second-best in 446 appearances in the competition. It previously had a PIR of 156 in a blowout against Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, 106-68, on December 18, 2018.
Efes played the perfect game on offense. Krunoslav Simon had 18 of his team-high 24 points in the first half, in which Efes found advantages in pick-and-roll situations, immediately feeding Tibor Pleiss under the rims. Tough on-the-ball defense was required in the second half and that is when Dogus Balbay stepped up with 4 steals in the third quarter. The whole team fed off his energy and the outcome was already clear, 63-86, at the end of the third quarter.
The good news for Efes - and bad for every other team in the league - is that Shane Larkin had a season-best 20 points and looked effortless. In fact, Larkin did not shoot in the first 13 minutes but once he got going, he was unstoppable, hitting shots and getting his teammates involved, finishing the game with a team-high 7 assists.
Efes managed to stop Alexey Shved in a way no one has in many moons. Shved entered the game with a 78-game streak of scoring at least 10 points and had hit at least one three-pointer in each of his last 24 appearances in the competitions. He finished the game with 9 points and 0-of-5 three-point shooting. A defensive change, putting Balbay on him, made the difference, as head coach Ergin Ataman said in the post-game press conference.
"We stopped our trapping defense to Shved because we saw he played for assists, for the roll, so we adjusted our defense. All game, we continued like this," Ataman said. "This strategy was very successful for us. We didn't change our strategy. Krunoslav Simon played great in the first half and then Larkin came back to play his game. Our bigs controlled the boards and we got an important victory."
Simon's 24 points were 1 shy of his career-high and Pleiss added 18. With Larkin at this level, close to how he looked in a dominant 2019-20 season, Efes can only get better and better.
"It is a process, just trying to get my legs back underneath me," Larkin said after the game. "I missed a lot of time, so I am just trying to get back into rhythm, trying to get back in shape, trying to help my team win any way, and I am glad that we got a big win today."