Looking to clinch home-court advantage in the upcoming Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs, AX Armani Exchange Milan needed to get the job done against red-hot Anadolu Efes Istanbul on Friday night. Milan could have hardly asked for a better regular season ending.
Finishing the first quarter with a double-digit lead, and then quickly building on it, Milan led by as many as 30 points before settling for a 98-75 victory. The victory earned Milan home-court advantage in the best-of-five playoffs. Its opponent in that series will be FC Bayern Munich, assuring that either Milan will make its first Final Four appearance since 1992 or Bayern will become the first German team ever to reach the event.
Admittedly, Efes lacked motivation on Friday since it would finish in third place regardless of the outcome of the game. But make no mistake that if Milan was not at the the right level, the visitors would have tried to grab any chance they could at the victory.
But, Milan never gave Efes a chance.
Milan head coach Ettore Messina saw his team make a season-high 27 two-point shots and shoot 50.0% (10 of 20) from three-point range. A couple of things left Messina particularly satisfied.
"We did not have Kyle [Hines]; we played without him for the first time in the EuroLeague," Messina noted, pleased that the four-time EuroLeague champion's absence was never felt against Efes.
"We had Jeremy [Evans] coming back and showing he can really help us. That was the greatest news of the night, together with the comeback of Malcolm [Delaney]. With Malcolm back, everybody goes back to his position. Chacho [Rodriguez] can come off the bench and change the tempo of the game, Malcolm can set the defensive tone at the beginning of the game. All small things go into place, and let's hope this will carry on in the playoffs."
Milan has all the experience needed, both in its head coach and with three former EuroLeague champions on the floor, to succeed in the playoffs. They played on Friday as though there wasn't any pressure and in the process showcased again that this team has big weapons across the lineup.
"One of our goals was to get home-court advantage, which we accomplished," forward Shavon Shields said. "So, we move on to our next goal, winning the playoff series."
If Shields is as unstoppable in the playoffs as he was on Friday night, with 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting; if Kevin Punter stays on fire as he was in scoring 18 points against Efes; or if big men Zach LeDay and Jeff Brooks can combine again on making 5 of 8 shots from three-point land, Milan will have plenty to look forward to in its first playoff appearance since 2014.