Mike Taylor, Head Coach of the Polish National Team continues his analysis of the Euroleague Final Four in Cologne. After successfully predicting the winner of both semi final games, read below as Mike Taylor looks ahead to the Championship game.
Friday’s Euroleague Final Four action from Lanxess Arena in Koeln was fantastic. After building a big third quarter lead, Anadolu Efes held off CSKA Moscow’s furious comeback in the first game and Barcelona guard Corey Higgins’ game winning pull up jumper against Milan put an exclamation point on the evening. The Efes and Barca wins set up a much-anticipated match-up between two outstanding teams.
FC Barcelona vs Anadolu Efes
December 22nd, 2020 Anadolu Efes 86 FC Barcelona 79
February 4th, 2021 Anadolu Efes 88 FC Barcelona 86
BARCELONA BEAT MILAN
Entering the game as a favorite in the eyes of many fans, Barcelona overcame an outstanding effort from an Ettore Messina led Milan. Edging ahead 27-24 after one quarter, Barcelona built the advantage to 9 at the half 52-41. Excellent Messina half-time adjustments helped Milan make a run to re-claim a 58-57 lead. Kevin Punter and Shavon Shields were key during this stretch. Milan maintained momentum moving ahead by 8 (67-59) in the third quarter. Faced with the deficit, Barcelona responded to trim the margin to 4 heading into the fourth quarter, 71-67. The exciting fourth quarter saw over-achieving Milan position themselves for the upset and fan-favorite Barcelona show their quality down the stretch in the games most important moments. Big plays from both teams in winning time had Barcelona’s Nikola Mirotic coolly sinking clutch free throws before Milan’s Kevin Punter drilled a deep 3 tying the game at 82. But when Punter missed a three, Barcelona’s Corey Higgins grabbed the rebound with 8 seconds to play. It was the situation players dream about all over the world — tie game, last seconds, you get the ball. Higgins capitalized like he was in a situation like it before. Pushing the ball up-court against the clock, Corey advanced the ball as far as he could before stepping into a last second pull up for the win. Higgins’ heroics helped Barcelona advance to Sunday’s championship game where they will be playing for their 3rd Euroleague title. Sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic was the top scorer for Barcelona with 21 points 6 rebounds while drawing 8 fouls on his way to shooting 13 free throws.
Veteran center Pau Gasol made his presence felt with 10 first half points including a pair of three-point shots from the top of the key.
Most fans expect the best team with the best players and biggest budget to win the championship. But this is far from automatic. For Barcelona, widely respected as an excellent team with a deep roster of great players, Head Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius has guided his team into position to compete for a championship. Offensively, Jasikevicius’ system features excellent play-making in the pick and roll, tremendous three point shooting firepower and opportunities for Barcelona to play through the post giving them great balance. The team’s depth is impressive and any player has the ability to step up and help the team on any given night, Corey Higgins the most recent example.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Barca’s three-point shooting has been a strength for the team all season. Friday against Milan they hit 8 for 20, but Kuric, Mirotic and Abrines can all impact the game from beyond the arc. Veteran center and two time NBA champion Pau Gasol also showed his accuracy hitting two first half top of the key threes against Milan. Look for Barcelona to attack Efes’ bigs with pick and pop plays in Sunday’s match-up.
Maybe more important, the Barcelona defense must meet the challenge against the dynamic Efes back-court. Look for Barcelona to work for ball-pressure and impacting the ball at the point of attack in PnR and using center Brandon Davies in lineups to switch screens later in the game.
BARCELONA X FACTORS:
Friday against Milan, Barcelona point guard Nick Calathes was on his way to another outstanding performance with 17 points and 6 assists as the game went into winning time possessions. Driving the lane looking to make a play, Nick landed on the foot of Milan under-sized big man Kyle Hines rolling his right ankle. Nick was helped to the Barcelona bench and would not return to the game. Saturday, Barcelona Head Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius reported to the media that the injury is not too serious, but Calathes will be a game time decision on Sunday. It is clear the availability and mobility of Nick Calathes will be one of the main story lines of Sunday’s Euroleague Championship game.
ANADOLU EFES BEAT CSKA MOSCOW
Winning their way to a 2nd straight final appearance, Anadolu Efes survived a valiant CSKA Moscow comeback in Friday’s 89-86 opening game at Lanxess Arena in Koeln. Efes controlled play throughout the first half and appeared to be cruising into Sunday as they built a 60-39 lead early in the 3rd Quarter. But CSKA battled back cutting the deficit as Playoff memories of blown leads from their recent Madrid series seemed to haunt Efes. But there is a big difference between giving away a lead and blowing a lead and Anadolu Efes was trying to win the game twice rather than lose it once. Recently crowned Euroleague MVP Vasilije Micic starred for Efes scoring 25 points with 6 assists before fouling out. Big man Sertac Sanli stepped up with 19 points and 8 boards Experienced French shooting guard Rodrigue Beaubois caught fire early drilling a perfect three for three from three for 9 first quarter points on his way to 15 in the game. Shane Larkin hit clutch free throws and skied for the game-clinching rebound as he contributed 11 points on the evening. Crafty veteran Krunoslav Simon added 10 points and an extra dimension of playmaking to the Efes back-court.
Efes guard play is as good as it gets in Europe. Micic, Larkin and Simon give Head Coach Ergin Ataman a dynamic back-court with three playmakers that can both score and create for others. The beauty of it is how they play together making the extra pass and taking good shots. In the two wins over Barcelona this season, different guards led the way for Efes as Shane Larkin scored 23 points with 7 rebounds and 8 assists December 22nd before Vasilije Micic tallied 26 points and 5 assists on Feb 4th. While most focus will be on the excellent Efes offense, fans should not forget about the team’s front-court with centers Tibor Pleiss and Bryant Dunston who provide size, length and rim protection that allow guards to gamble and clean up mistakes. After beating Barcelona twice in the regular season, Efes will take the court in Koeln with confidence Sunday at Lanxess Arena.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
80 is the magic number for Efes.
This season, Anadolu Efes is 23-0 when scoring 80 or more points. In Sunday’s Euroleague Championship game, keep your eyes on the dynamic Efes back-court and three guard lineup as they face the disciplined Barcelona team defense. This can be the decisive match-up with Nick Calathes’ ankle injury factoring in.
EFES X FACTORS:
Rodrigue Beaubois showed his value to the Efes team sparking the team to a strong start with perfect three point shooting. Kris Singleton stepped up in the team’s series-clinching Game 5 win over Real Madrid and has the offensive talent to make a difference on the big stage of the Euroleague championship game too. While all eyes will be on Micic and Larkin, keep your eyes on Simon and his underrated impact on the game.
ANADOLUS EFES 82 FC BARCELONA 78