The longest and most dramatic Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season ever will come to climax on Tuesday with the first Game 5 triple-header in playoffs history as we discover which three teams will join CSKA Moscow at the Final Four. Here’s your guide to what we can look for during the most decisive single night in EuroLeague Playoffs history!
Efes or Madrid?
Real Madrid pulled off a pair of miraculous escapes at home to Anadolu Efes Istanbul last week, keeping the series alive by scoring the last 16 points in the final 4 minutes of Game 3 and then rallying from 13 points down in the last 7 minutes of Game 4.
A key player for Los Blancos during those stirring comebacks was young center Usman Garuba, who helped fill the gap created by injury to Walter Tavares with a pair of superb performances, especially in Game 4 when he paired 24 points with 12 rebounds. Most importantly, Garuba also put up a one-man defensive wall to totally stifle Efes’s powerful offense during the key latter stages. Now, Ergin Ataman’s men must find a way to get past the talented teen on Tuesday.
Efes can take confidence from its home form after having tasted victory in 10 consecutive games at the Sinan Erdem Dome and winning all eight quarters of the first two playoffs games there against Real. But the last visiting team to triumph at Efes was none other than Real, back in December, and Pablo Laso’s men have all the momentum heading into this week’s decisive duel.
Milan or Bayern?
Like Real, another team with the chance to make history by becoming the first to ever overturn a 2-0 playoffs series deficit is FC Bayern Munich, which plays its deciding fifth game on the court of AX Armani Exchange Milan. Andrea Trinchieri’s team has been pulling out great escapes all season, and Friday night was no different as Paul Zipser and Vladimir Lucic inspired a spectacular comeback from a 13-point deficit to tie the series 2-2. That 85-82 victory was no less than the 11th time this season Bayern has won by a single-possession score, so the German team will have no fear if the game gets tight in the latter stages.
However, Milan has also twice beaten Bayern by tiny margins, including a 79-81 overtime road win in the opening week of the regular season and a 79-78 thriller in Game 1 of the playoffs. That came courtesy of a dramatic game-winning alley-oop layup from Zach LeDay which set the tone for a truly unforgettable series.
With Milan’s decorated veterans Kyle Hines and Sergio Rodriguez eager to take the Italian team to the Final Four for the first time this century, and Bayern’s hungry rising talents such as Wade Baldwin and Zan Sisko gunning for their first Final Four ever, this should be another game to remember.
Barca or Zenit?
After taking its series with FC Barcelona the distance with a comprehensive home win on Friday night, Zenit St Petersburg is now looking to complete maybe the biggest shock in playoffs history at Palau Blaugrana by becoming the first-ever eighth-seed to eliminate a top seed.
One of the keys to the game will be establishing inside dominance. Zenit won the rebounding battle 40-26 and once again restricted Barca’s close-range shooting on Friday – the Spanish team has made just 44% of its two-point shots during this series, compared to 53.7% during the regular season.
On an individual level, Zenit needs Will Thomas to continue to get the better of Nikola Mirotic after outshining Barca’s star so far. Mirotic top-scored for Barca during the regular season with averages of 16.9 points and 6.3 rebounds, but Thomas’s brilliant defense has held him to just 9.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in the playoffs.
The backcourt duel between Kevin Pangos and Nick Calathes will also be vital. Zenit’s Pangos has been clearly superior so far, averaging 18.5 points and 6.5 assists per game during the series compared to just 9.3 points and 4.3 assists for Calathes. If Mirotic and Calathes can be nullified again Zenit has every chance.
Seen at: Euroleague.net