FC Barcelona's overtime victory at Anadolu Efes Istanbul on Friday in a rematch of the 2021 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game was an instant classic. But for Barcelona big man Sertac Sanli, it was an emotional tug-of-war, too.
Sanli poured in a career-high 24 points in helping Barcelona prevail 93-95 after 45 minutes in Istanbul. But instead of being joyous about extending Barcelona's winning streak to five games and helping the Spanish giants snap a four-game losing streak against Efes, Sanli struggled with his words post-game.
"I don't know how I feel after this kind of game. It was really hard for me to play but I need to be professional and I did my job. That's all. I need to look at it this way," said Sanli about his homecoming to the club he played at for the past three seasons.
Sanli definitely put any fond feelings for Efes aside in this game – especially in the fourth quarter.
With Barcelona trailing 68-62, he scored the first basket of the final frame and then drained a three-pointer to give his team its first lead since midway through the first quarter. Sanli followed that with another triple to make it 68-72.
Efes later tied the game 75-75 and Sanli punched back with another three-pointer and added a dunk for a 75-80 cushion before Efes got the game to overtime.
In the extra session, Sanli picked up the first basket and then scored the final free throw of the game.
"Like I said, I don't know how I feel. I cannot describe my feelings," he said after. "It's hard to play these guys. I spent the last three years with them. Like I said, I cannot say anything after a game like this."
Sanli helped Efes finally climb the EuroLeague summit last season and then in the off-season left for Barcelona. His return to Istanbul for the Round 13 battle also meant a special honor for Sanli as he collected his championship ring from Efes for winning the title last season.
"We understand that when you come back to your previous team or to your home it's a lot of emotions," Barcelona coach Sarunas Jasikevicius said. "I want to thank the Efes fans for giving him the respect. They greeted him very nicely. And the club honored him. It's a nice moment for Sertac."
The Barcelona coach recalled the team's first trip this season to Istanbul, in late October to play at Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul in Round 6.
"He was all over the place when we came back to play Fener. He was walking through Sabiha (Gokcen International) Airport like a hero returning home when we came to play Fener," Jasikevicius said. "We were talking inside the staff and we said: 'We don't have him tomorrow.' It's emotional to come back home the first time. And this time he's coming back to his team."
Jasikevicius admitted that he didn't talk to Sanli after the Fenerbahce experience or ahead of the homecoming to Efes.
"I just let it go because I understand how difficult it was always for me to come back and play against Zalgiris and some other teams that I played for. He's a smart guy and he probably understood his situation," the coach said.
Jasikevicius was actually surprised he was able to get so much out of Sanli in a game that meant so much to the Turkish big man.
"I thought he was very solid. I thought he could have played even a little better if he didn't get into foul trouble."
The Barcelona team is probably thrilled to be leaving Istanbul with a road win over a great team, not to mention exacting a bit of revenge after losing last season's final game. But Sertac Sanli might be the only player not overly excited about the win. With understandable reason.