On Saturday evening, the current season of the Euroleague, the strongest basketball club tournament on the continent, came to an end. The competition ended with the traditional Final Four, which was entrusted to Belgrade. Moreover, initially Berlin was the host of this event, but due to covid restrictions, only a small part of the fans could watch the decisive games for the title live, and this would be reflected in the television picture. As a result, the Euroleague leadership decided for the first time in three years (if we count the unfinished coronavirus season 2019/2020) to hold championship games without any medical protocols and moved the final bullet to Serbia, where at the moment there is no limit on the attendance of sports arenas.
A quartet of very strong teams reached the Final Four: the current Euroleague champion Efes Pilsen from Turkey, the Greek Olympiacos, as well as the Spanish giants Real and Barcelona. Each of these teams went their own way through the season, with inevitable ups and downs over a long distance (the tournament lasted almost eight months), but in the decisive matches all the teams were absolutely deserved. The highlight of the final stage was added by the fact that this time there was no clear favorite among the four participants. Of course, Barcelona stood out a little, which took first place in the regular season, but the Catalans were definitely not an unquestionable candidate for the championship.
According to the tournament grid in the semi-finals, all basketball fans were waiting for the confrontation between the Greek and Turkish clubs and a special dish in the form of the Spanish El Clasico between irreconcilable rivals. The matches were expected to be very intriguing and, looking ahead, I will say that they did not disappoint.
The basketball players of Olympiakos and Efes Pilsen were the first to take to the floor. The Greek team returned to the decisive stage of the Euroleague after a five-year break and was such a team without a clear leader. Of course, the organizational talent of Kostal Sloukas in the back line stood out, Giorgis Printezis had tremendous experience, but a good half of the Olympiacos roster could take over the game and shine in a single match.
In opposition to them, the current Euroleague champion with a potentially strongest pair of defenders in Europe, Shane Larkin – Vasily Mitsich, acted. Both the Serb and the American on a good day can simply destroy their rivals, and their neutralization is a priori the number one and number two task for the opponents’ coaching staffs.
The game turned out to be very interesting. In the first half, the Greeks took with a well-organized team game, and the Turks answered them with excellent implementation of three-pointers (47% in digital terms). But in the third quarter, the Greeks’ team play began to falter, when Efes Pilsen continued to steadily score points. The advantage of the Turks in the middle of the ten-minute period increased to +11, which was a lot for such a game.
Of the personalities among the current champions of the Euroleague, I would like to mention Elijah Bryant. The American defender is not the main in the back line of his team. After the aforementioned pair, Croatian Krunoslav Simon and Frenchman Rodrigue Bobois play an important role in the Efes rotation. But the first could not play due to injury, and the second is now in poor shape. However, Elijah has thoroughly secured his coach Ergin Ataman, who loves to play three defenders. Bryant scored 16 points (second on the team) and did a huge amount of useful work on defense. In general, the American has become a real X-factor for his team.
To the credit of the sons of Hellas, they withstood the onslaught of “Efes” and spent the fourth quarter better than their opponents. Methodically eating the lead, the Greeks managed to level the score nineteen seconds before the end of the last ten minutes – 74:74. The air smelled of overtime. But then Vasily Mitsich took his weighty word. The Serbian basketball player showed why he is considered one of the best defenders in European basketball, throwing a smart three-point shot with a siren in a tied score. Efes made it to the final, and Micic took another step towards the historical recognition of his talents.
Real Madrid and Barcelona met in the second semi-final, and this fact alone promised an interesting game for everyone. The first half of the match was completely for Barcelona, it ended with the advantage of the Catalans in eleven points – 45:34. Finally, the big match for Nikola Mirotic succeeded. The leader of Barcelona has often been criticized that he shines only in regular seasons, and key games and finals are not his forte. This time, Mirotich put the skeptics to shame. Nikola had a great fight, with a margin he became his best sniper (26 points) and scored a simply gorgeous efficiency rating (39 points).
However, “Real” did not think to give up. In the third quarter, the creamy coach Pablo Laso found the right combinations and, together with his charges, turned the game around. French defender Fabien Coser regularly scored points, and a pair of big Walter Tavares – Gershon Yabusele reliably closed the three-second zone. As in the first semi-final, the game found its X-factor. The fact is that already in the first minute of the match, Real Madrid starting point guard Nigel Williams-Goss was injured. Having shuffled several options on the ball, the Real Madrid coaching staff drew their joker. The Spaniard Alberto Abalde does not play a key role in the team, but in the game against Barcelona he managed to remove the confusion in the actions of his team and organize a high-quality attack, becoming the shadow hero of the match.
Real Madrid took the lead even before the end of the third ten-minute period, and in the fourth quarter they collected a seven-point lead for themselves. Barcelona pulled themselves up, and the meeting turned into a tense clutch, where the experience of big matches and big victories of the current Real Madrid roster and coaching staff played a role, while their opponents had non-obvious and not very successful coaching decisions from Sarunas Jasikevicius and a very unfortunate ending from one of the key players in Barça, Nicolas Laprovittola. The Argentine defender in the last decisive minutes lost the ball on the drib, climbed under the pot from Vincent Poirier and twice allowed himself to score through himself in defense. At the end of the meeting, Real was better and won – 86:83.
In fact, a match for third place was still played before him, but traditionally few people are interested in it, including even the participants in this duel. It was won by Barcelona – 84:74 and slightly sweetened the bitterness of defeat from a principled rival.
And then everyone was waiting for the main match in European club basketball this season. In general, Euroleague finals often do not please fans with high performance. So it was this time. The teams did not even reach the mark of 60 points scored. This final was the most ineffective in the recent history of the Euroleague. However, the language will not turn to call the match boring and uninteresting. Sales percentages, yes, let us down, but the huge tension on the site, strong defense from both teams, which, at times, was just reinforced concrete, the presence of a full-fledged intriguing clutch and periodic bright highlights in the attack were in place. Despite the score, the game was definitely a success.
The teams had an equal first half. At Real Madrid, Walter Tavares played powerfully, and at Efes, the game was traditionally built through a pair of Shane Larkin – Vasily Mitsich. It is worth noting that the semi-final jokers did not play so brightly this time. Alberto Abalde and Elijah Bryant had good matches, but for the second time in a row they failed to become X-factors for their team.
All the fun started after the break. Thanks to the five-point advantage after the first half (it ended with a score of 34:29 in favor of Real Madrid) and the continuation of strong basketball from Tavares (double-double already at the beginning of the third quarter), the creamy ones scored a nine-point handicap for themselves, which looked like huge advantage.
However, Efes turned the game around. The key episode happened in the 26th minute of the match, when Real Madrid led by +7 and in their attack twice in a row led Alberto Abalde to an open three-pointer, but the Spaniard missed. And in response to Efes, the German center Tibor Pleiss scored from behind the arc and instead of +10 Madrid got +4, and the current Euroleague champions perked up.
In general, the German can safely be called the most important character in his team. Despite another excellent performance from Vasile Mitsic, it was Tibor Pleiss who scored key shots in the second half. Suffice it to say that he has four of the last seven points scored by his team. Even a few annoying outs from him in defense and a chic block shot from Real Madrid big man Vincent Poirier, who simply sealed the taller Tibor, do not spoil the excellent impression of Pleiss’s game.
In the clutch, a cruel joke with the Spaniards was played by their pure game in defense. In the last minute, Efes had a minimal advantage and the ball was at Efes, but Real would have enough time for the last attack in any case. However, the players of the Turkish club skillfully collected fouls on themselves and the time counter again charged them with the new fourteen seconds required in such cases. For some reason Real Madrid did not want to intentionally break the rules at the first moments of the Turkish attack and bring Efes Pilsen’s basketball players to the penalty line. As a result, the last throw from Shane Larkin took place when the scoreboard was already a few seconds before the end of the quarter. Then there was a struggle for rebounding and Real Madrid did not even have time to really catch on to the ball. The final siren recorded the victory of “Efes” – 58:57 and the second consecutive Euroleague title for the Turkish club.
Despite the fact that participation in the Final Four of the Euroleague for Ukrainian clubs is simply impossible to imagine, our country has already been represented at this action for the umpteenth time. The best Ukrainian basketball referee Boris Ryzhik was selected by the tournament directorate as one of the judges who were to officiate the decisive games. Moreover, it was Boris Ryzhik who was the chief referee of the semi-final match between Olympiacos and Efes Pilsen. Also, our compatriot was included in the brigade assigned to the final. Excellent recognition of the high professional qualities of the Ukrainian referee.
The Final Four MVP title for the second year in a row went to Efes defender Vasile Micic (15 points + 9 assists + game winner in the semi-finals and 23 points in the final). He is now the third player in modern Euroleague history to receive this award more than once. In addition to him, Dejan Bodiroga, Dimitris Diamantidis and Vassilis Spanoulis can boast of such.
It is also impossible to pass by the achievement of Elijah Bryant. The American defender of “Efes” in the previous season became the champion of the NBA with “Milwaukee” (he sat on the bench more, but still), and this season he became the winner of the Euroleague. He was the first player to win two of the most important titles in the basketball world in this sequence.
The final four was an excellent end to the current season of the Euroleague. The teams delighted the fans with tense matches, individual performances, game winners and other bright stories. The basketball festival was definitely a success. And instead of words, I would like to finish the material with a video from the press conference, which clearly demonstrates the joy and emotions of the two-time winner of the tournament.