Shane Larkin has put the dagger in FC Barcelona on so many occasions in the last few years, it was only inevitable that the all-action backcourt star would shine again as Anadolu Efes Istanbul took the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title with Sunday night’s 81-86 victory at Lanxess Arena.
Larkin headed into the game with an average of 20.2 points in his 12 EuroLeague games against Barcelona, nine of which had ended with victory, so the Spanish team knew exactly how difficult it would be to keep him quiet.
In the first half of Sunday’s decisive showdown, however, Larkin found it very difficult to get going. Barca’s aggressive switching defense disrupted his rhythm, prevented him from finding any decent looks at the basket and kept him on the periphery of the action. Larkin finished the first quarter with just 1 free throw, having taken only one field goal attempt and committing 2 turnovers.
But he persisted and started to get himself into the game from the foul line. Larkin scored 8 free throws during the 4-19 run that allowed Efes to turn a 10-point deficit into a 36-39 halftime lead and his smiling demeanor during a halftime interview with EuroLeague TV strongly suggested he was feeling comfortable and confident that more would come after the break.
And so it transpired. In tandem with his backcourt mate Vasilije Micic, who had been kept equally quiet in the first half, Larkin embarked on a sensational run of plays to give Efes full control of the game. After Micic got things moving with a pair of driving layups, Larkin warmed up with a steal and score and then followed a triple by Micic with a long-range strike of his own. Between them, Micic and Larkin had scored 14 points in less than 3 minutes, giving Efes a double-digit lead.
The game was far from over as Barca bit back, tying the game at 69-69 and 72-72 as the clock started to run down. Once again, though, Larkin came to the fore and restored his team’s lead – for good, it eventually proved – with a three-point play. Another successful trip to the foul line inside the final minute was followed by Larkin, fittingly, taking the last touch of the ball as he grabbed a defensive rebound from Barca’s last possession, sparking wild celebrations as Efes was finally able to celebrate a title triumph which had been three years in the making.
Not even Barcelona fans will begrudge Larkin his moment of glory. The sharpshooter has been one of the most exciting talents in the competition throughout Efes’s resurgence from last place to champions since the summer of 2018 and he was well on track to win the league MVP award before last season was forced to finish early. Larkin, without any doubt, deserves his time in the sun.
He had to do it the hard way on Sunday night, setting a new championship game record for free throws made without a miss (12) and however hard they tried, Barca once again learned that Shane Larkin is just too good to be kept down.