The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs could be concluded this week with three teams needing just one more win to secure Final Four qualification, while the other series is perfectly poised at 1-1. Here’s your guide to the action, which starts on Tuesday.
Can Real contain red-hot Efes?
The first team with an opportunity to book a place at the Final Four is Anadolu Efes Istanbul, which travels to Real Madrid knowing that victory on either Tuesday or Thursday will be enough to advance. Efes has made one of the most dominant starts to a playoffs series ever seen, winning all eight quarters en route to taking Game 1 by 27 points and Game 2 by 23 points. Coach Ataman's team has been able to count upon major contributions from its star backcourt duo of Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic, who combined for an average of 32.5 points and 9 assists over the first two games. But they were by no means the only contributors, with Sertac Sanli also dominating the frontcourt with 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Real’s troubles intensified as vital big man Walter Tavares missed Game 2 through injury and he remains a doubt for at least Tuesday’s meeting in Madrid. Having scored just 63 and 68 points in the opening two games, Coach Pablo Laso’s men urgently need to find more firepower to compete with Efes’s high-octane offense and Real must improve its long-range shooting after making just 24.1% of its three-point attempts last week.
Barca looking for stars to shine
After coming within one missed shot at the end of regulation of taking a shock 2-0 series lead back to Russia, Zenit St Petersburg will aim to make homecourt advantage count as its hosts top seed FC Barcelona on Wednesday and Friday. Zenit’s star guard Kevin Pangos – formerly of Barcelona – scored the winning basket in the final seconds of Game 1 and had the chance to do the same two days later, but his attempted game-winner hit the rim and Barca held its nerve in overtime to tie the series thanks to some big late plays from Adam Hanga.
One notable aspect of last week’s meetings was a pair of very subdued performances from two of Barca’s biggest stars, Nikola Mirotic and Nick Calathes, whose combined averages of 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 turnovers were way below their usual high standards. If those key players suffer another tough week and Zenit’s excellent defense is again able to make life difficult inside the arc – Barca made just 42.1% of its two-point attempts last week – the Russian team could well cause one of the biggest upsets ever seen in playoffs history.
Fenerbahce seeking rebounding boost
Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul will be in a must-win situation on Wednesday and Friday after suffering a pair of road losses last week at CSKA Moscow, with the reigning champion now just one more victory away from advancing to a ninth consecutive Final Four. Fenerbahce will be hoping to recover some of the players who were absent last week after testing positive for COVID-19, with the aim of giving support to star duo Nando De Colo and Marko Guduric, who played their part by respectively averaging 18 and 19 points per game last week.
A big priority for the Turkish team is to be more competitive under the boards after being heavily outrebounded in both games last week. Fenerbahce must find a way to challenge the physical presence of Toko Shengelia after the Georgian powerhouse flirted with a triple-double and finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in Game 2. CSKA has also enjoyed an excellent series so far from playmaker Daniel Hackett, who has averaged 6 assists while making 7 of his 10 three-point attempts.
Milan aiming for historic Final Four berth
AX Armani Exchange Milan is one of the most historic clubs in European basketball, having been crowned continental champions in 1966, 1987 and 1988. Recent years have been tougher, but the Italian club is now very close to sealing its first Final Four appearance of the century after establishing a 2-0 series lead over FC Bayern Munich.
If this season has taught us one thing, however, it is that Bayern never gives up. The German team launched a series of remarkable comebacks on the way to 21 victories in the regular season and will be relishing the opportunity to take the series to the full five games by winning on Wednesday and Friday. Bayern is very strong at Audi Dome, boasting the best home record in the competition with a 13-4 record, but one of the few visiting teams to triumph was Milan with a dramatic 79-81 overtime win in Round 1. Repeating that triumph in Munich this week will be far from easy against a resilient Bayern team, but Milan will look to the experience of Sergio Rodriguez and Kyle Hines – as well as the scoring power of Kevin Punter – to seal the series.