With star scorer Shane Larkin and dominant big man Bryant Dunston already out injured, and Tibor Pleiss playing through the pain of an ankle injury, the last thing Anadolu Efes Istanbul needed during Friday’s match-up at Panathinaikos OPAP Athens was another injury.
But that is exactly what happened – and very early – as Rodrigue Beaubois was caught in a collision with Marcus Foster and left bleeding heavily in the face after just one minute of action, forcing him into the locker room for stitches, unable to return for the rest of the game.
Clearly, being without two guards who score in double digits on average was a big problem for Efes, especially on the road at a venue where it had only known defeat in the last 14 years, losing ten games in a row at OAKA during that period.
Fortunately for the visitors, head coach Ergin Ataman was able to call upon another elite EuroLeague guard, who proceeded to cope for the absence of his injured backcourt mates by doing enough work for three players all by himself.
Vasilije Micic was simply unstoppable on Friday night, especially at the start of the third quarter when he took the team on his back with a sensational run of scoring to turn a narrow deficit into a commanding lead.
Panathinaikos led by four points, 40-36, at the interval, but Micic scored the first points of the second half to narrow the gap. A minute leader, he did so again, then struck a three-pointer to take his tally for the half to 7 points in 3 minutes and the score to 44-43. Panathinaikos kept scoring but so did Micic, making it 9 consecutive points for his team with another two-point strike. And then, after a brief interruption in which Pleiss became his team’s second scorer of the half, the Serbian guard was back on target from long range, shooting his team into a 48-50 lead just past the midway point of the third quarter.
The home team’s resistance was broken, but Micic still wasn’t finished. He knocked down another triple and then finalized his outburst with a pair of free throws, taking his personal tally for the quarter to 17 points – 3 more than the whole Panathinaikos team!
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Micic’s performance, though, was that he still was not content. Knowing that the team needed him to continue due to the absence of Larkin and Beaubois, he stayed on the floor throughout the fourth quarter, playing hard and driving relentlessly to the basket until he finally fouled out with 82 seconds remaining.
He ended up spending 33:14 on the floor, scoring a personal-best 33 points. More than the numbers, though, Micic showed tremendous character and personality to embody his Coach Ataman’s post-game comment observation: “We have players who are mentally very strong.”
On Friday night, none was stronger than Micic, and none was better.