Even though Anadolu Efes Istanbul allowed 86 points to FC Barcelona in its narrow victory on Thursday, there is no way to properly analyze the winning team’s performance without appreciating the great job it did on defense. Efes forced Barcelona into 18 turnovers and kept the hosts scoreless for nearly 5 minutes in the fourth quarter to collect its fifth win in six games.
Since Efes is a team that plays at a high pace with dynamic guards Vasilije Micic, Shane Larkin and Rodrigue Beaubois, the raw points allowed numbers do not always tell the defensive story, as Coach Ergin Ataman explained: “Just in the first quarter, we scored 27 points and this is our game, because when we score, when we move the ball well, we play more aggressive also in defense.”
Efes’s high-scoring start saw it lead by as many as 7 in the first quarter and 10 in the second before Brandon Davies rallied the hosts to within 50-53 at halftime. Nikola Mirotic tied the score at 58-58 early in the third, however, Krunoslav Simon had an assist and 4 points in a 0-9 run that Larkin capped with a three as the visitors pulled away again. The margin peaked at 67-80 in the fourth quarter.
Even late in the game, when Barcelona was batting back, a series of hustle plays helped Efes hold on. The margin stood at 9 after Mirotic sank free throws with 3 and a half minutes remaining. Efes wound the 24-second clock down before Larkin missed, but then Adrien Moerman grabbed the offensive rebound. Efes waited for time to tick off the shot clock again. This time Micic missed a three and Sertac Sanli grabbed the offensive board. After they kicked the ball to the perimeter to burn more time, Micic found Moerman for a layup to complete a possession that took nearly a full minute.
Moerman took another offensive rebound on the ensuing possession and even had a third on the game’s last play when Barcelona could have in theory still flung a full-court winner on the buzzer after Sanli missed from the line in the last second.
The numbers that told the story were the turnovers; Barcelona committed 18, which Efes turned into 17 points. Efes had a mere 6 turnovers, which tied its season-low, and Barcelona managed just 3 points from them.
“We played perfect defense tonight. On offense we moved the ball, we attacked well with our switching defense,” Ataman said, before making sure that everyone knows how strong his team is. “I believe that we showed power tonight. Everybody maybe thinks that Efes is over for this season, but in this game, we showed that we are not over and we will play in the end for the title.”