Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul held on to a 71-76 road win over Olympiacos Piraeus on Friday night, getting its tally to 19 wins. With three games to go, Fenerbahce is on the verge of clinching a playoffs spot and has the same record as fourth-place AX Armani Exchange Milan in a race for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
It is a situation few would have expected Fenerbahce to be in exactly three months ago. In late December, as it was heading into its Round 16 clash with Olympiacos, Fenerbahce held a 5-10 record and sat in the next-to-last place in the standings.
However, head coach Igor Kokoskov's men beat the Reds back on that occasion, and on Friday they did so again. Fenerbahce has now won 14 of its 16 games since late December, more than any other team in the league during that span.
It was all the more reason that Fenerbahce wanted to make sure that good run continues to solidify its place in a heated playoff race.
"We did not need to re-emphasize the importance of the game, but we knew this game was crucial for us," Coach Kokoskov explained.
In coming full circle, from one win over Olympiacos to the other, Fenerbahce used a similar pattern: dominant inside play to overcome a poor night shooting the ball from long range.
On Friday, Fenerbahce converted 26 of 38 two-point shots, good for 68.4%, while going just 4-for-19 from three-point land. The team went inside early and often, making 9 of 12 two-point shots in the first quarter and 9 of 13 in the second. Ahmet Duverioglu got things started, then Dyshawn Pierre followed by taking it inside before Danilo Barthel contributed with close-range baskets himself. All along, Jan Vesely was doing his part.
To add to its inside dominance, Fenerbahce also had 7 offensive rebounds on just 13 missed shots before halftime. It all led to building a comfortable 18-point margin.
What was different in this game compared to any other this season was Kokoskov's player usage. Only seven Fenerbahce players spent more than 10 minutes on the floor.
"I shortened the rotation, we played with less guys," Kokoskov stated after the win. "Some heavy minutes for the main guys. I think that affected our second half; a little fatigued, a little tired, a lot of turnovers."
Olympiacos did close the gap, but the margin Fenerbahce built in the first half was big enough to pick up another victory and continue its late push up the standings.