In the immediate aftermath of starring in his team’s first victory of the season, Anadolu Efes Istanbul center Tibor Pleiss had no doubt about the key factor behind the result.
Returning to his native Germany, Pleiss delivered an outstanding performance to lead all scorers with 23 points on 8-of-10 two-point shooting. He made all 7 of his free throws and grabbed 6 rebounds including 4 on the offensive end. His point total was the second-highest of his career - and the most he has ever scored in an Efes uniform.
When he was asked for his verdict on the action, though, Pleiss had no interest in discussing his shooting or rebounding exploits and instead focused on another aspect of his team’s game.
"We moved the ball pretty well, we had a lot of assists and played different than the last two games," he told EuroLeague TV. "In the last few games, we took a lot of bad shots, but today we moved the ball, passed the ball under the basket and outside. We had really good ball movement in general."
By emphasizing 'a lot' of assists, Pleiss was not wrong. In fact, Efes’s tally of 28 was by far the highest achieved by any team so far in the new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season, easily outstripping the previous best of 23 managed by three teams. Furthermore, it was also pretty special in historical terms, ranking as the joint second-best assists number in club history – only surpassed by the 34 recorded in a 104-99 thriller against UNICS Kazan in 2016.
Leading the way for Efes in Berlin on Tuesday night was Vasilije Micic, who equaled his career personal best in the assist column with 13 – many of those being delivered to Pleiss. But plenty more aside from Micic got in on the action, with nine Efes players dishing at least 1 assist including debutant Erten Gazi, even though he only spent 1:32 on the floor.
Having lost its first two games of the season (and averaging just 14 assists in the process), Efes needed to end that streak in Berlin. And Coach Ergin Ataman will have been very pleased to see that happen through the recovery of a fundamental strength over the last couple of campaigns: ball movement. Efes ranked second in the league in assists during its run to the 2019 Championship Game, averaging 19.2 per game, and was strong in that category again last season with 17.6 apg.
By hitting those high standards once more on Tuesday, Efes showed that its game is based on a far more rounded approach than simply relying on the scoring heroics of still-injured superstar Shane Larkin. In the words of Ataman: "We played our regular basketball, shared the ball and found good shot selection."
After a slow start to the season, Efes is back and great ball movement was the key.