The conventional wisdom before Game 1 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs series between Anadolu Efes Istanbul would be that the hosts had the stronger backcourt and the visitors enjoyed more power in the paint. After all, the Efes guard duo of Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic is one of the best in the league, while Real center Walter Tavares is the reigning EuroLeague Best Defender whose offense is only getting better.
Of course, conventional wisdom doesn't play the game. On the court, Game 1 played out much differently as Efes controlled the paint and dominated the second half to win 90-63.
"Offensively, we didn’t shoot very well tonight," Efes Coach Ergin Ataman summed up in the post-game press conference. "Larkin had only 3 baskets in 10 attempts from the three-point shots. Micic had only 1 basket in 9 attempts. But we played correct basketball. And our bigs, especially Sertac, Dunston did a very good job. Moerman."
"A very good job" might be selling the Efes bigs short. Sertac Sanli, who was scoreless in less than 3 minutes in his only previous playoff action, went off for 16 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 20:12 of playing time. He more than doubled his regular-season averages of 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Sanli was at his best in the third quarter when he nailed a three-pointer and converted a pair of three-point plays in helping Efes outscore the visitors 20-10 and pull away for good.
Bryant Dunston added 11 points on 5-of-6 two-point shooting and collected 6 rebounds. Combining their numbers with power forward Adrien Moerman gives Efes 34 points and 20 rebounds in 63 minutes. The three players listed as centers who played for Real - Tavares, Usman Garuba and EuroLeague debutant Tristan Vukcevic - combined for 15 points and 13 rebounds in 63 minutes. Indeed, Efes's dominance inside tells much of the story from the game.
However, it's not the whole story. The 69 three-pointers between the teams were the fourth-most ever in a EuroLeague game – and 10 more than the previous most in a playoff game! Indecently, three times before playoff opponents combined to fire up 59 threes and these teams were involved in all of them, including an Efes vs. Real showdown in 2015.
Efes shot a respectable 14 for 36 from downtown (38.9%), with its number of tries representing the third-most ever by the club. Real was 10 for 33 from behind the arc (30.3%). Considering that these teams both rely so heavily on the outside shot – they ranked first and second in threes made this season, a subpar shooting night for Real was especially costly.
With Larkin and Micic struggling with their shot, as Coach Ataman noted, the players to credit were Rodrigue Beaubois, Sanli and Krunoslav Simon. The former made 3 of 6 triples in scoring a game-high 19 points. Sanli and Simon were each 2 for 4 from deep and James Anderson and Erten Gazi both made their lone three-point attempts. Aside from Larkin and Micic, the rest of the Efes lineup combined to make 10 of 21 threes (47.6%).
Indeed, Efes outshot Real from every range, controlled the rebounds and committed fewer turnovers, which all contributed to a lopsided victory. And it started with the strong play of the big men, who steadied the ship and subdued Tavares and co. to give Efes a fantastic start to the series.