With the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four fast approaching, the keys to each semifinalist's performance against the other three during the regular season loom large for the entire title-chasing weekend.
Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul vs. Anadolu Efes Istanbul
Fenerbahce split its season series with Efes, winning by 18 in Ulker Sports and Event Hall but losing by 6 at Sinan Erdem Dome. Offensive execution was not an issue for Fenerbahce in either game as its scorers amassed 1.11 points per possession against Efes – just above Fenerbahce's EuroLeague-leading average. The difference in the two contests was the spot-up shooting of Efes. Finishing the season ranked second in spot-up efficiency – behind Fenerbahce – Efes scored an impressive 27 points on 22 spot-up possessions in that October victory, but only 6 points on 14 spot-up possessions in its late February loss. Much of that difference can be traced to the adjustments that Fenerbahce's defenders made to limit their opponents' ability to create quality looks from the pick-and-roll. Efes, the EuroLeague's top ball-screen attack in points created per game, generated 43 pick-and-roll points in beating Fenerbahce, but only 22
in losing against a defense ranked just 14th in efficiency against ball-screens.
Key to watch: Fenerbahce's adjustments against Efes's top-ranked pick-and-roll attack
CSKA Moscow vs. Real Madrid
CSKA beat Real Madrid by 5 and 4 points in late November and early February, respectively. The Russians averaged 1.02 points per possession against the EuroLeague's most efficient defense thanks, in large part, to a 15-for-26 three-point shooting exhibition in Round 10. Cory Higgins caught fire in that game, while Alec Peters and Will Clyburn followed his lead from long distance. Real has had one of the best defensive seasons in modern EuroLeague history thanks, in part, to how well its defenders have closed out on opposing shooters. Real is the only team allowing under 1.00 points per spot-up possession this season and – despite CSKA's early season outburst – did not give up much more space than usual on the perimeter in those losses. CSKA just shot the lights out.
Key to watch: CSKA's outside shooting against Real's elite perimeter defense.
Potential Finals Matchups
Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul vs. Real Madrid
Plenty of teams have strung together multiple trips to the EuroLeague Championship Game. However, the championship game has never featured a rematch from the previous season. Fenerbahce's two games with Real Madrid this season could not have been much more different. The Turks controlled the tempo and won 65-63 in December while Real poured 101 points en route to a commanding victory in early March. Real's offensive explosion was the result of inside play. The champs did not shoot the ball very well from the perimeter, but Sergio Llull, Anthony Randolph and the team's deep frontcourt got comfortable in the paint, scoring 35 points around the rim in half-court possessions and 19 more in transition. That was up from just 16 points inside off the set offense and 2 points in transition in the first matchup. Ranking second in the EuroLeague in points scored in finishing situations, Real has been effective inside all season, but had one of its best games against Fenerbahce, who finished the year ranking right at the league average in points-per-shot allowed inside.
Key to watch: Real's opportunistic scoring inside
Anadolu Efes Istanbul vs. Real Madrid
Real earned two hard-fought victories over Efes in the regular season thanks in large part to the way it closed games defensively. Efes rolled up 1.14 points per possession against Real over the first three quarters of both games – well above its already-impressive season average – but scored only 0.79 points per possession in the final quarters of those losses. Tightening up their pick-and-roll defense, Real's ability to make timely changes was the difference in their victories over Efes this season.
Key to watch: Real's late game defense vs. Efes's offensive momentum.
CSKA Moscow vs. Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul
Splitting the season series in a pair of very competitive games, CSKA and Fenerbahce held court at their home arenas. Both games proved to be chess matches on the offensive end, with each team finding unexpected ways to gain an upper hand on the scoreboard. CSKA scored 17 points in post-up situations in its victory – a huge jump from its 5.4 points per game in one-on-one situations in the post the rest of the season. In its own win, Fenerbahce managed to find roll men for 12 points – including several highlight reel dunks – to exceed the 5.2 points per game its roll men scored on the season. Both coaches found ways to utilize their personnel to great effect, adjusting to the circumstances. Will Clyburn's ability to exploit mismatches and Jan Vesely's explosiveness as a finisher factored prevalently into each team's victory.
Key to watch: Fenerbahce and CSKA making unexpected adjustments offensively.
Anadolu Efes Istanbul vs. CSKA Moscow
CSKA bested Efes twice during the regular season, once by 18 points in late December and once by a single basket in mid-March. CSKA's defense did a nice job of limiting Efes's pick-and-roll attack but did its best work around the rim offensively. Scoring a combined 27.5 points on cuts and put-backs against Efes – up from the 13 points per game on such attempts the rest of the season – CSKA's frontcourt had one of the top put-back scoring performances in recent EuroLeague history in December. CSKA then shot 69% in finishing situations within their set offense in their narrow late-season win. Efes ranked fourth in the EuroLeague in points per shot allowed in the half-court but was unable to control the paint in two meetings with CSKA.
Key to watch: CSKA's points in the paint, particularly on put-backs.