It was an instant classic as Fenerbahce and Baskonia served up an extraordinary 45 minutes of basketball in the Euroleague Final Four. In the end it was Fener that was left standing to book a spot in Sunday’s final, writes Emmet Ryan
Baskonia got the living hell beaten out of them in the game’s opening minutes as Fenerbahce raced into a 13-0 lead before Adam Hanga finally got them on the board with a dunk. The atmosphere made this part of Berlin into Istanbul West and the Fener side fed off that early. The usual stuff that works for Baskonia wasn’t getting done early, Gigi Datome could make Davis Bertans for pace and Udoh could shut him down when he tried one from the corner. This was the type of machine Fener unloaded at key points of their series with Real Madrid. Everyone is an asset on offence and the defence has such a fierce combination of size and speed that mistakes simply can’t be afforded.
Eventually Baskonia settled, they had a run of efficient offence, and once they cut the deficit to 5 it was time for Fener to take a breather. Despite a Darius Adams three it was back to the hot pace from Fener right after. Baskonia fought hard to stay relevant as Sloukas put in Jan Vesely for the alley-oop to push the Istanbul club further in front. At the end of the first Fener led 23-15.
Baskonia however were over the shocked. A neat little floater over Antic’s coverage made it a one possession game and what was quickly turning into a potential game of the season was well and truly on. Vesely sensed the crowd was going out of the game and started playing conductor. It didn’t hurt that he is lethal from point blank range and gleefully finished off an alley-oop from Antic. For every move Fener had, Baskonia had a response. Kim Tillie was next to take the load. This was a road atmosphere but having won in the Oaka, nothing was going to intimidate them.
The more practical problem was their defensive paint where Fener were bulldozing through with vigour. In order to get back into it, Baskonia fought fire with fire, forcing the action into the paint in order to create some space on offence. Darius Adams took advantage from deep twice as both sides just unloaded what they had on each other. After 20 minutes question was how half these men were still standing far more than who was on top on the scoreboard. Fener led by the minimum, 41-40.
Baskonia took their first lead of the game through Adams to open the second half scoring. Mentally it was a big hurdle for them to overcome. Fener quickly made it a two possession game in their favour but this was a fight.
The pace of the first half was never going to be kept up but neither side was willing to yield. The tempo was still pretty hot. Adams was playing with supreme confidence in this cauldron and three to restore Baskonia’s took the wind out of the effectively home fans. The lead was briefly stretched to 4 before Zeljko Obradovic called in the troops. Fener came out focused, regained the lead, and forced Baskonia to take a breather.
Ioannis Bouroussis knew exactly what to do on the way out of it. He nailed a three to give Baskonia a two point lead heading into the final 10 minutes. The big Greek had been getting it done all night just like he has been all season but now in these final stages he was pushing the ‘road’ team forward.
Now it was Fener blinking. Dixon hestitated with the open three, it missed. The rebound found its way to Antic, a semi-contested three but again he waited that instant too long to release. Briefly it became a three possession game in favour of Baskonia. The shots were falling when they absolutely had to.
Now it was Vesely’s time to shine, a mini-run by the Czech reeling in Baskonia to make it a one point game yet again. Half a quarter to play and it was as tight as it gets. Fener were trying to survive without any kind of outside game. The Istanbul club was 0 of 8 from three to start the second half.
As we hit the business end of the game it was Fener playing the chasing role and with 48.4 seconds remaining Datome finally made a three for the Istanbul club to once more cut the deficit to the minimum. Kostas Sloukas tied it on Fener’s next possession. 25.7 seconds to go, Baskonia ball, and a place in the final at stake.
Adams spent the guts of the time left hanging on the top of the arc, he looked to have made the right step to get the shot off but he adjusted poorly and it rimmed out. Overtime, or so it looked. Upon review Fener were adjudged to have called a timeout with just 0.6 seconds on the clock. Dixon’s hail mary wasn’t close. Now, it actually was overtime.
Baskonia were the first to blink in OT, an Ekpe Udoh hook shot just beat the shot clock to give Fener the first two possession lead of the extra period. After Bouroussis went 0 of 2 from the line, Bogdan Bogdanovic was cool as you like, gliding in for a lay-up to put Fener into a 7 point lead. Nothing was falling for Baskonia and now it was time for Fener to build some breathing room.
With the lead at 9 the atmosphere turned jovial, the sea of yellow felt they had it. Baskonia never stopped fighting but this was Fener’s night. The two best teams in Europe all season are going to meet to decide who’s the champ.