Anadolu Efes Istanbul reached the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game last season and most of the leaders of that team are back. And that experience shined through as the runner-up survived a tough battle on the road on Tuesday in France.
Efes never was able to pull away, but it also never really allowed LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne to wrestle control of the game as Coach Ergin Ataman’s team prevailed 84-90 on the road, becoming the first team to hand ASVEL a home loss this season. Shane Larkin scored 19 points while Vasilije Micic and Rodrigue Beaubois both tallied 16 points, Sertac Sanli had 15 and Tibor Pleiss chipped in 11 points. All five of those players returned from the team that came up just short of the title last season with a championship game loss to CSKA Moscow.
ASVEL, on the other hand, is playing in the EuroLeague for the first time since the 2009-10 season and had two teenagers - Theo Maledon and Matthew Strazel - play at least 15 minutes.
"It was a priceless experience for all my guys to play against a team like this," ASVEL head coach Zvezdan Mitrovic said after the loss - the team’s first at home in the EuroLeague following wins over Olympiacos Piraeus, KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and CSKA Moscow.
It wasn’t a thing of beauty for Anadolu, which connected on just 48.7 percent of its two-point shots. But Ataman’s men hit 9 of 19 three-pointers (47.4%) not to mention an outstanding 25-of-26 shooting on free throws - including 14-of-14 for Larkin.
In addition to a high free throw percentage, another mark of a good team is taking care of the ball and Efes committed only 6 turnovers in the game. And it was not lost on the visitors that they had another tough road game coming up on Thursday against AX Armani Exchange Milan.
"We knew that we had a double week of games this week and for this type of game it's not important how you play, just that you win," said Micic, who also had 4 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals for a PIR of 25.
It was knowing how to win an ugly game while staying mentally sharp and focused that carried Anadolu past ASVEL.