Fenerbahce got a rude welcome to the big time as a second quarter surge sent Real Madrid to a third straight Euroleague Championship game. Emmet Ryan dissects the carnage.
The clash of colours was more obvious for the second game of the day. As I stood outside to get some air between games, the final few fans were desperately running to the gates. Inside the arena
Fenerbahce looked to have the advantage in the numbers and they definitely did in terms of noise. For Real Madrid, this opening quarter was of massive importance. If they could go up big early, they would talk the raucous traveling supporters out of the game and get Fenerbahce to start thinking about whether they really belonged at this level.
Jaycee Carroll’s face appeared on the big screen as he looked up stretching. The American has been through both of Madrid’s back to back disappointments in the championship game. He didn’t look like a man who carried the suffering with him. It was a face of relaxation, a man who just wanted to get down to business.
The scale of the occasion was obvious. The players were that little bit slower doing their pose with the local children, neither side looking to break the huddle first. Finally, it was time to get the show on the road. Real Madrid, playing at home in the Euroleague Final Four, against a Fenerbahce team that brought a good chunk of Istanbul with them.
Luka Zoric bricked the first clean shot of the game. It had taken a minute just to get that far. He made his next effort with a lay-up. Fenerbahce were ahead in a Euroleague semi-final game. That’s a box ticked. Just a few dozen to go. The rise of Fenerbahce has been filled with frustration. Two years ago they looked to have the talent but were found out by the end of the regular season and had no impact on the Top 16. They stepped forward in their first season under Obradovic but never looked like a serious playoff contender. Fener was far from a monster at home and vulnerable on the road.
That’s what has made 2014/15 so different. They have carried the pressure of past failures and run riot. They cruised through the regular season and their playoff spot was never in doubt through the Top 16. A sweep of last season’s champions, Maccabi Tel Aviv, showed they weren’t happy with just making the post-season. The target was Madrid and every one of their early scores in this first quarter was welcomed loudly from the stands. Mr Fenerbahce, Oguz Savas, made his first appearance in a Final Four game with 6.40 left in the first. Another box ticked.
Real were just going about their business early. Gustavo Ayon got them off the mark as the actual game began with tit for tat scoring, albeit slowly. Real know all about this stage. For over two decades they have waited for the Novena, a ninth European championship and a first in the modern Euroleague era. London was a disappointment. Milano was a shock. Carroll and Fernandez combined to give them their first lead of the night midway through the quarter. After seeing Olympiacos roar back just an hour or so earlier, Real knew that everything has to be fought for on this weekend.
Even the cheerleaders looked nervous at the first timeout, unsure of when exactly to fire their t-shirt guns.
Jan Vesely was the same cool man who had been all whatever during the press time the night before. Having washed out of the NBA, he clearly felt he has something to prove back in Europe and his work ethic has been all about getting it done. The dirty work got inside on offence, he fought off Marcus Slaughter on defence and capped his quarter with a dunk in the open court.
After Chacho brought the home crowd to life with a three another young Fener player likely to head to the NBA, Bogdan Bogdanovic, responded in kind. The pace had picked up. When the first quarter ended it felt like we had already been through a full game. Emir Preldzic lost track of the clock at the death but still had just enough time to give Fener the edge 21-20.
Gustavo Ayon started the second quarter looking like the man who carried Mexico to the FIBA Americas Championship in 2013 and to the last 16 of the World Cup in September. He easily intercepted an inbounds early in the frame and casually tossed in a lay-up before adding another 2 points via a tip-in as Real started on an 7-0 run, forcing a Fenerbahce timeout. Vesely finally responded for Fener with another dunk.
Offensively everything was going right for the hosts and they sensed the opportunity open up a big gap. KC Rivers beat the shot clock with a three to push Real into a 34-23 lead and Obradovic had to call timeout again at 6.42. The whistles from the Fener crowd were getting quieter as the home fans voices became clear. Ayon continued to dominate in the paint with 14 points in the game’s first 14 minutes.
Zoc didn’t even look angry on the sideline, his arms crossed saved for when he had to pull his pants up.
Another three from Rivers led to a brief sigh from the Fener coach but this quarter had quickly become about damage limitation.
A three from Nemanja Bjelica was met with the faintest cheers from the visiting fans. An air of resignation so early in the game that seemed justified when Chacho hit another from deep. Real were playing on a different level and at the half this looked done. All the emotion of the opening quarter undone by a dominant frame as Real led 55-35. Ayon had done the work inside while the rest went 8 of 14 from deep in the half, with Rivers helping himself to four threes.
Real began the third in the same manner they ended the second, back to back threes from Sergio Llull and Rudy had landed before many fans had even retaken their seats. Bodies were still dripping in when Carroll made Real’s line from deep a ludicrous 11 of 17. Tensions flared up as Rudy tussled with Zoric but it was minor stuff and the crowd soon cheered as Rudy’s fiancée appeared on the big screen. At this point it was a parade as Jose Calderon sat stoically while the fans cheered his face on the big screen.
Fener were at least limiting Real’s efforts to push even further in front and even forced Pablo Laso to all a timeout when they cut the deficit to 16 midway through the quarter. The Real coach wasn’t just thinking about this game. Olympiacos are more than battle tested for the final and he couldn’t afford to have his players go into the title decider having slept through the second half of their semi-final.
With 10 minutes to play, Real led 76-59 with an Andres Nocioni block denying Fener on the buzzer. The fourth carried little action of note, the final score of 96-87 was flattering to Fenerbahce. Real progress to their third straight final, Fenerbahce have a third place game to get out of the way before they can get back to business in the TBL Playoffs.