It’s going on late March and FC Bayern Munich is playing for keeps as it hosts red-hot Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Game of the Week on Friday.
That alone is saying something for a club that rejoined the German first division just a decade ago after 35 years in the basketball wilderness.
But that alone doesn’t say enough. Though it still has plenty of work left to nail down the first EuroLeague Playoffs spot this century by a German team, Bayern has been much more than just a challenger this season.
“Bayern has been steady as a rock, straddling fifth and sixth place at the end of each month this season.”
While other, more experienced and traditional EuroLeague powers have yo-yo’d within the standings, Bayern has been steady as a rock, straddling fifth and sixth place at the end of each month this season. Under any circumstances, that is admirable consistency.
The reward for that staying power is that all eyes will be on Munich tonight, when Bayern (18-11) tries to stop the Efes juggernaut that has won eight games in a row, the last seven by an average of 25.3 points. Bayern will replace that fact with the knowledge that it already beat Efes (19-19) in Istanbul this season, thus another victory win tonight would mean a sweep of their series. If that happens, fifth-place Bayern may leap-frog second-place Efes in the standings, depending on other results.
In March of last season, Bayern was tied for last place with an 8-20 record when the season was suspended and eventually canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over three weeks last summer, Bayern revamped its team by hiring experienced head coach Andrea Trinchieri, guard Wade Baldwin IV, forward JaJuan Johnson, center Jalen Reynolds and shooting guard Nick Weiler-Babb in quick succession. With just 36 games of EuroLeague experience between them coming into the season, those four now account for almost half of the team’s average performance index rating.
Early this season, point guard Dennis Seeley and veteran forward James Gist were brought in to complete the transformation. That sextet of newcomers and holdovers Vladimir Lucic, Paul Zipser, Leon Radosevic and Nihad Dedovic have been the foundation of a turnaround that saw Bayern eclipse its win total from last season on December 11 and its best total ever in the EuroLeague with a 15th victory in a 101-95 overtime thriller against archrival ALBA Berlin on February 5.
With three victories since then, Bayern is now 18-11, but faces a daunting final stretch of games that begins tonight with Efes and continues with road games at Valencia Basket and FC Barcelona sandwiched around double-round home dates with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and Zalgiris Kaunas.
All of those teams except Barcelona also will be fighting for playoff berths, but Bayern might have a secret weapon: falling behind in the score.
“If anything has set Bayern apart and defined this team’s remarkable season, it is resilience.”
If anything has set Bayern apart and defined this team’s remarkable season, it is resilience. Of its 18 wins, half of them have come after Bayern has been down on the scoreboard by 10 or more points. Its nine wins rallying from 10-point deficits are four more than any other EuroLeague team this season and a record in the competition since that data has been tracked starting in the 2007-08 season. The previous record was eight such comebacks by Darussafaka Istanbul when it reached the playoffs in the 2016-17 season, putting precedent on Bayern’s side.
Of course, all of Efes’s recent victims have been plunged into double-digit holes and never got out of them. So this is no recommendation for Bayern to fall behind on purpose, not against any team, but particularly not the well-oiled machine that is Efes at this particular time.
If Bayern happens to face a steep uphill climb in the middle of tonight’s game, however, do not turn away. Resilience is a mark of the character that has put Bayern where no team from Germany has tread before, on the brink of the EuroLeague Playoffs, and with that status comes high-pressure international springtime showdowns like tonight’s.
Welcome to the big-time, Bayern.
Seen at: Euroleague.net