After turning 19 just last month, Real Madrid power forward Usman Garuba turned his team's Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs series upside down on Thursday by sparking the Spanish powerhouse to a comeback 82-76 victory over Anadolu Efes Istanbul in what was the biggest clutch performance by a player his age in post-season history.
Other teenagers have shined brightly in the EuroLeague, but until Thursday, none had amassed a performance index rating of 30 this late in the season. Garuba not only did that, but led Real with 24 points and 12 rebounds, both his career highs, in the absence of All-EuroLeague center Walter Tavares, who is injured.
Garuba also became the youngest player and just the second teenager to record a double-double in the playoffs. Omri Casspi did so for Maccabi Tel Aviv with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the 2007-08 playoffs, about three months before turning 20.
Garuba was instrumental in rallying Los Blancos from 12 points down with 7 minutes to go. The Real youngster scored 8 points during the 19-2 run that turned his team's 59-72 deficit into a 78-74 lead and, ultimately, the victory.
In the starting lineup for the third consecutive game, Garuba played a career-high 33:26 minutes in Game 4, switching between playing as a four and as a five in Real's small-ball lineup. He made 7 of 11 two-point shots, 1 triple on 4 attempts and 7 of 8 free throws to lead all scorers in the game.
Meanwhile, he was dominant on the boards, pulling down this season's playoff-high of 12 rebounds and becoming the first player in the 2021 playoffs to pull down double-digit defensive rebounds in a single game.
What he brought to the team was probably best showcased on a play with 4 minutes to go, where he was left on the perimeter defending Shane Larkin one-on-one. Larkin tried to shake him off, but Garuba stole the ball from Efes's superstar guard then raced the other way for an uncontested dunk.
Garuba's play cut the deficit to 69-73, which he followed up with a layup that kept Real's rally going.
"I always trust in my team and my teammates, and I am very happy", Garuba said, trying to defer any credit for his coming-out party in a post-game interview. "We have a lot of experienced players, so we listen to them."
With his PIR 30, Garuba joined nine other players who did so as teenagers: Nicolas Batum, Sani Becirovic, Goga Bitadze, Luka Doncic, Edu Hernandez-Sonseca, Zaza Pachulia, Zoran Planinic, Ricky Rubio and Beno Udrih.
More important than this, or the records, is that Garuba and Real have climbed from a 0-2 hole in the series with a pair of improbable fourth-quarter comebacks, and will have a chance to create more EuroLeague history in Game 5 on Tuesday in Istanbul.