It is the pinnacle of playoffs basketball the world over, the essence of do-or-die drama. Indeed, just saying Game 5 says it all. And on Tuesday, for the first time in Turkish Airlines EuroLeague history, there will be three such showdowns on a single night to decide three Final Four places from among six highly deserving contenders.
Up until now, the history of Game 5 is all about the home teams. There have been 10 winner-take-all fifth games under this playoffs format started in 2009. There have been one or no Game 5s in nine seasons since then, and a high of two each, back-to-back, in 2013 and 2014. Until now.
The one constant in all 10 previous series that went the distance is that no road team has won Game 5. What’s more, the average victory by the home teams has been by 12.2 points. The biggest such victory was CSKA Moscow’s 74-44 win over Panathinaikos Athens in 2014. The smallest was Panathinaikos by 86-85 over Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2012.
It should be noted, however, that one such precedent exists in a best-of-three series, when Baskonia knocked off Panathinaikos 71-74 in Athens in 2006. So, it can be done.
What’s more, this season, the longest in EuroLeague history with 34 regular season rounds, ended with the narrowest difference between the first and eighth playoff places, just four victories. And there is one more fact to consider for fans of Tuesday’s road teams. Although none of them needed five games to advance, five of the last 10 champions did not have home-court advantage in the playoffs.
The fun starts on Tuesday with Anadolu Efes Istanbul hosting Real Madrid. Efes has 11 players with Game 5 experience, the most of any team playing on Tuesday, thanks to mostly the same roster having won in the last game of the previous playoffs held in 2019, when they defeated FC Barcelona.
Efes also has the two players with the most Game 5s played, Dogus Balbay and Bryant Dunston, with three such appearances each. They are a combined 2-4 in Game 5s. Real, however, has two veterans with two Game 5s each, Sergio Llull and Felipe Reyes, and they won both together.
AX Armani Exchange Milan welcomes FC Bayern Munich in Tuesday’s second tipoff, which is the first Game 5 for either club and the vast majority of their players.
Milan’s Kyle Hines, Vladimir Micic and Sergio Rodriguez won four Game 5s combined in their time with CSKA Moscow. Rodriguez was hurt and did not play any game for Real in its 2011 five-game win over Valencia Basket. Bayern has the least Game 5 experience of any team playing Tuesday. Veteran forward James Gist played Game 5 twice while with Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, but lost both games, in 2013 to Barcelona and 2014 to CSKA.
The third and last Game 5 on Tuesday has regular season winner Barcelona on its home floor against Zenit St Petersburg, which is trying to become the first eighth-seeded team to knock off a top seed. Neither has a seventh seed beaten a second in the previous three seasons under the round-robin format.
Like Efes, Barca has plenty of players with Game 5 experience from their series with Efes two years ago. Barca also ties Efes for the most players with two or more Game 5s in their past: Alex Abrines, Victor Claver and Nikola Mirotic. Zenit has only guards Kevin Pangos and Vitaly Fridzon with Game 5s to fall back on, but on its bench is the coach with the most of them, Xavi Pascual, who went 2-1 in such situations while on the bench of Barcelona.
All told, 30 players on the six rosters for Tuesday’s games have played previously in at least one Game 5 in the EuroLeague Playoffs, one-third of them more than once. The home teams on Tuesday have 23 of those players and the road teams 7.
In what is already been a history-making season like no other, it remains to be seen who can make some more in Game 5 on Tuesday.