Final Four standouts: 'The pressure is definitely different'

May 28, 2021 by Print
 Final Four standouts: 'The pressure is definitely different'

The 2021 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four features many players who know how to play – and do very well – in these types of games Even though AX Armani Exchange Milan has not been in the Final Four since 1992, three of its players combine for 21 appearances at the event. Likewise, FC Barcelona last played the Final Four in 2014, but its head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius knows all about this scenario. And, of course, CSKA Moscow and Anadolu Efes Istanbul played each other in the 2019 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game.

Jasikevicius is one of the greatest Final Four winners of all time, the only player in more than 60 years of EuroLeague-level competition to lift the continental champions trophy with three different teams: Barcelona, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos Athens. If he wins again in Cologne, Saras would also become just the fourth person to do so as both a player and a coach. In his expert opinion, timing and focus is everything.

"Control what you can control"

"Everything goes so fast. It is 40 minutes and they go away really fast. You know you have to be super focused and play really physical," Jasikevicius, the 2005 Final Four MVP, said. "You have to control what you can control. I would say that after each Final Four, you are more used to it and it is hard to be surprised by anything."

Milan's Kyle Hines and Sergio Rodriguez can join Jasikevicius as players who have won the title with three different clubs. Hines has lifted the trophy four times – with Olympiacos Piraeus in 2012 and 2013 and with CSKA Moscow in 2016 and 2019. Rodriguez won it with Real Madrid in 2015 and CSKA in 2019. 'El Chacho' said that that handling the pressure goes above everything else.

"It is true that you feel that a lot is at stake. You play for the outcome of the whole season in one weekend," Rodriguez explained. "That makes you go little by little and maybe things are not fluid at first. But the experience of playing many Final Fours, seeing many times that the game can change through the course of it, forces you to be really focused on what we have to do."

Despite not winning the trophy, Efes guard Shane Larkin had an outstanding 2019 Final Four. He broke the record for most points scored in a championship game, 29, and registered the best point total in a single Final Four this century, 59, for fifth on the all-time list. Larkin explained that even though the pressure is on, you have to embrace it and enjoy the fact that you earned the right to play at this level.

"It's a lot of pressure. It's two very, very talented teams, coached well, with talented players. And it's one game and go home, pretty much. So it's a lot of pressure in these games, but these are the funnest games to play," Larkin said. "And this is what you work all year for. This is, you know, all those long nights in the gym, all those early mornings of practice, running in the preseason. This is what those moments are for. So, glad to be here, and hopefully this time we could walk away as champions."

"These are the funnest games to play."

The last Final Four MVP was Will Clybrn of CSKA, who is back at this event after a tough two-year period in which he overcame an ACL injury. Clyburn said he believes in the "no-tomorrow approach." That focusing on the rival in front of you is the only way to be successful.

"The pressure is definitely different. I think you don’t need to get wrapped up in the pressure. I think you need to play it like another game, play like it's your last game," Clyburn said. "That's probably the biggest thing you could possibly do in these situations. Don't play it like you have one more game after this. Play this like it's the last game and you'll be fine."

Great winners with lots of experience and each has his own recipe for handling the pressure of the Final Four. Whose will work best this weekend?