Larkin continued his Buesa Arena dominance

Apr 02, 2021 by Print
Larkin continued his Buesa Arena dominance

Shane Larkin made his Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut on the opening night of the 2016-17 season at Buesa Arena when Anadolu Efes Istanbul came to town to visit Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. That night, Larkin played for Baskonia and helped his team edge Efes 85-84 with 9 points and 5 assists.  

He has been back in Vitoria-Gasteiz for five games in an Efes uniform and Larkin has done nothing short of dominate in those games. First was in Round 29 of the 2018-19 campaign when he tallied 19 points and 5 assists in a 92-102 victory. Then came Larkin's breakout party at the 2019 Final Four.

Larkin assaulted the record book with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in the semifinals to lead Efes to a 73-92 victory over Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. His PIR of 43 was the highest at a Final Four on record. Two nights later, he poured in 29 as Efes came up short in the championship game, 83-91, against CSKA Moscow. It was the most points by a player in the championship game since the turn of the century. His 59 points between the two games were likewise the best of the current millennium. And Larkin's 9 three-pointers were 1 off the record for most at a single Final Four, too.

Last season, Larkin accumulated 24 points and 8 assists for a PIR of 37 in a 77-102 victory in Round 12. So it seemed to be fait accompli that Larkin would dominate when Efes showed up for Thursday's game.

However, Larkin had a very limited impact against Baskonia in the first half with 2 points in 11:28 minutes. He missed both of his three-point tries and had just 1 assist alongside 1 turnover. Nevertheless, Efes led 41-46.

"In the first 25 minutes, he didn't score, he didn't attack the basket," Efes coach Ergin Ataman lamented after the game. "Then we spoke in a timeout and we said we need someone who will create, who will score. And he showed his potential."

"Showed his potential" must be a euphemism for took control and could not be stopped: Larkin scored 28 points after halftime and was involved in almost all of the big plays – even one in a negative way.

After Zoran Dragic tied it for Baskonia at 65-65, Larkin hit back with back-to-back three-pointers. Then Baskonia rallied and Larkin was there to answer. His next triple tied the game at 85-85 and his fifth three of the night gave Efes the lead, 87-88, with 50.2 seconds on the clock. On the final possession of regulation, Larkin lost track of Luca Vildoza, who drilled a three to tie it at 92-92 and force overtime.

"Larkin said after that that it was his mistake because he lost his player, but after that, in overtime, he kept the ball and he won the game," Ataman told EuroLeague TV. "It's very important. If you want to play the Final Four, if you want to win the EuroLeague, Larkin is in this team for this. If you consider him one of the best players in the EuroLeague the last two seasons, he must play at that level."

Indeed, Larkin started the overtime session with a four-point play and added another clutch jumper to put the game on ice. His final line was 30 points on 6-of-9 three-point shooting. He scored 8 points in the third quarter, 12 in the fourth and 8 in overtime.

In his five visits to Buesa Arena with Efes, Larkin has gone 4-1 – and 3-0 against Baskonia – while averaging 26.4 points on 24-of-42 three-point shooting (57.1%) plus 5.0 assists per game.

The 101-111 victory ensured Efes a top-four spot and home-court advantage in the playoffs. Baskonia will have to fight for its playoff life in Round 34 against Valencia Basket. There is a scenario where these two teams could meet again in the playoffs. Surely Larkin will be licking his chops for another chance to torch the nets at Buesa Arena.