On Thursday night, Real Madrid and Anadolu Efes Istanbul met on a basketball court for the first time since their exciting Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs series last season. Real was the last team to beat Efes in the 2020-21 campaign, at WiZink Center, in Game 4 of this already legendary series. Efes took Game 5, traveled to Cologne, Germany, and beat CSKA Moscow and FC Barcelona to lift the trophy for the first time in club history.
Real had extra power compared to last season. First, over 4,000 of its fans were in attendance in what was the first EuroLeague home game the club has been able to admit fans to since 2020. Then its newcomers stepped up big, leading Los Blancos to an 82-69 victory against the defending champ. It was the first EuroLeague game with Real for Guerschon Yabusele, Adam Hanga, Thomas Heurtel and Nigel Williams-Goss.
Hanga, Williams-Goss and Yabusele started the game along with Edy Tavares and Fabien Causeur. Hanga and Yaubsele combined for 8 points in a 12-0 opening run that gave Real the lead for good. When Heurtel came off the bench, he quickly made the difference, finding Tavares and Vincent Poirier for alley-oop dunks and becoming the first player on the floor to reach double digits.
Heurtel had 10 points in the first quarter. At the end of it, Jeffery Taylor's tip-in gave Real a 32-15 margin. The hosts kept pushing early in the second and defense made the difference. Everyone contributed; Rudy Fernandez was scoreless and had a PIR of -3 at halftime, but his defensive contribution was huge. Real was +12 with him on the floor in the first half.
Real stopped Efes's ball circulation in the first half, powering the offensive glass to make the difference in the game. Efes reached halftime with 4 assists and 8 turnovers. It had 8 defensive rebounds and had allowed Real to pull down 10 offensive boards. Those extra possessions had a big impact on the game's outcome.
"It is horrible. Our concentration, our focus on the game, on the boards," Coach Ataman said at halftime. "It is horrible, this performance is horrible."
Real denied any Efes comeback attempts with strong defense. Tavares pulled down 7 of his 12 rebounds in the third quarter and at the end of it, Los Blancos had a 20-point lead. Efes only got closer once the outcome was clear.
Asked about the newcomers, Yabusele said everyone came to this team with a positive attitude: "We are just trying to help the team win some games and play the right way on offense and on defense," he said. "We just fit so well - we have a lot of potential in the team. We just know each other a little, but try to fit in just perfectly, just try to make fewer mistakes and try to win some games."
It was a new-look Real, with less run-and-gun basketball and more physicality than ever - Trey Thompkins and Anthony Randolph still have to join the team. Real was the last team to hold Efes under 70 points - it allowed 65 in an 8-point road win on December 29, 2020.
Real moves on to the next challenge; it faces Olympiacos Pireaus next week in a rematch of the 1995, 2013 and 2015 EuroLeague championship games. And it's new faces will have that much more of a connection with the team and their teammates by the time that game tips off.