Anadolu Efes Istanbul put on an exhibition on Tuesday night in the Spanish capital, thrashing Real Madrid 83-108 and storming into the playoffs with another impressive offensive display. After the first half, which went back-and-forth and was suggesting a see-saw battle between two powerhouses, Efes exploded for 67 points in the second half for a resounding victory that also fortified its position in a race for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
The first half saw Shane Larkin – starting for just the second time since January – held scoreless, while Vasilije Micic make a rare appearance as a reserve. Krunoslav Simon scored 13 points in the opening 6 minutes of the game, but apart from Simon's role and threes from its big men Chris Singleton and Sertac Sanli, Efes was far from impressive, however it was down just by 1 point at halftime.
But just like he shuffled his starting lineup, head coach Ergin Ataman, was not afraid to shake things up once again to open the third quarter: "We started the second half with Larkin off the bench and the starters of the second half shared the ball very well," Ataman said after the victory. "We played very good in our set offense and Micic controlled the game very well."
What made the difference was that the backcourt of Micic, Simon and Rodrigue Beaubois kept repeatedly attacking the basket to start the third quarter, whether by penetrating or by feeding Sanli inside. On top of that, Real's key figure, center Walter Tavares, first had an awkward fall that visibly bothered him before Micic, Singleton and Sanli drew consecutive three-point plays – in the process drawing Tavares's second and third personal fouls – to help Efes take a double-digit lead.
Real was not going away, but an unfortunate series of technical fouls against Rudy Fernandez and Coach Pablo Laso in the final 11 seconds of the third quarter helped Efes go into the fourth quarter with a double-digit margin.
"Of course, I am sorry about disqualification for Pablo, but he gave us an advantage because we shot 5 free throws at the end of the third quarter and then we did not lose control of the game in the fourth quarter," Ataman explained.
Indeed, those free throws allowed Larkin to tally his first points of the game. Then, he got going in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points.
Real had no answers on defense without Tavares, but it is hard to say if it would have had answers even if the foul-troubled Tavares was able to return to the floor for the fourth quarter. Because, once Efes established its inside game early in the third, things opened up on the perimeter and the visitors went on to hit 7 of 9 shots from long range in the second half.
"If we score and we get into our pace and our tempo, we are a very tough team to beat", Larkin offered his thoughts after the game. "In the second half, we really got to what we wanted to do."
To put Efes's offense into a historic perspective, Tuesday night was the second-most points Real has allowed in a game this century, and the most since it lost at home against none other than Efes 92-109 in April 2002. Moreover, the 67 second-half points was the most Real has allowed in one half of a EuroLeague game this century. And the 25-point margin of victory was Efes's largest ever against Real – overtaking the same 17-point victory in 2002.
With the playoffs on the horizon, and Efes close to securing home-court advantage, no team will want to face Coach Ataman's men the rest of the way.