The rest of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague should consider itself forewarned: the time to beat up on Anadolu Efes Istanbul appears to be over as the team’s superstar, Shane Larkin, is back. And with him comes an accept-no-loss mentality.
Larkin missed Efes’ first four games of the EuroLeague season and had to watch as the team struggled to a 1-3 record. But his impact was immediate in his first game in the competition for seven months as he collected 15 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block, 0 turnovers and 5 fouls drawn in Friday night’s 79-84 win over Olympiacos.
When asked how his team managed to win the game, Efes coach Ergin Ataman knew exactly where to point the praise.
"Shane Larkin came back, and I think my team came back. We started to play our regular game because this is the game we played the last two seasons," said the coach, who along with Larkin reached the EuroLeague Championship Game in 2019 and was leading the EuroLeague standings last season when the rest of the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sure, there was a little rust in Larkin’s game, which was to be expected having not played since he torched Olympiacos for 40 points in a 91-79 victory on March 6. This time around, Larkin made just 1-of-6 two-point attempts and 3-of-7 three-pointers.
Still, despite collecting just the one assist, Larkin’s impact was clear also by his teammates’ performances.
One player in particular was backcourt mate Vasilije Micic, who entered the game with some highs and lows, averaging 11.0 points and 6.5 assists but also shooting just 12.5% on three-pointers, having hit just 3-of-24 attempts from the outside. In game one back with Larkin, though, Micic poured in a season-high 20 points while hitting 2-of-6 three-pointers and dishing out 7 assists.
"Today I’m very happy - especially for Shane returning. We knew how much we missed him. Everybody knows how important he is for us," Micic said.
Larkin simply would not let his team lose. He entered the fourth quarter with four points and his first shot of the final frame was blocked. But then he drained back-to-back three-pointers, two free throws, another foul shot and then a tough reverse layup with 48 seconds left for a five-point lead.
After the game, Larkin was overheard telling his teammates: "That’s it, we’re not losing any more."
When asked about that statement afterwards he said: "That’s the mindset we need to have. We didn’t start the season the way we wanted to, so you just have to come in here and have that mindset. Last year was a great year for us. But we can’t continue to ride that happiness from last year. It’s a new year and we have to come into every game with that mindset. I just got here, it’s my first game in seven months but I am just trying to bring that mindset to the team."
The mindset of a winner on a mission – watch out, because Larkin is back and so too is last season’s Efes.