Bobby Dixon was the hero for Pinar Karsiyaka in Istanbul but Fenerbahce Ulker allowed old problems to get in their way as they were stunned 96-97 at home in Game 1 of the Turkish League semi-finals.
It’s almost best to go in reverse order here. Karsiyaka won thanks to a fortuitous off-ball foul late in ovetime. The call was right but Fenerbahce were unlucky to get in that situation with the seconds ticking down. Was it avoidable? Maybe but it’s the type of thing that can happen and a big team is expected to have done enough to not need to worry about that situation against against a 3/1 underdog in their own barn. That Fener even got to overtime was something else.
A bone-headed play by Erkan Veyseloglu gifted Fenerbahce a lifeline at the end of regulation. With Karsiyaka up 5 and 15 seconds on the clock, Jan Vesely was wide open for a dunk after being fed in the lane by Andrew Goudelock. Now there are lots of legitimate criticisms of Vesely but if there was a video game stat for making dunks when the defender is way too late, Vesely would have an infinity rating. It’s the one thing everybody who watches European basketball has to know about Vesely. That includes the extremely late Veyseloglu. It was a certainty that Vesely was making that shot over a much shorter and far too late man. The foul by Veyseloglu put Vesely at the line and that changed the chess match at the end dramatically. It’s easy to feel for Veyseloglu, he was trying hard on the play and he was just trying to show some passion but when you are Cinderella, and Karsiyaka really were in this situation, it’s your head that is going to win the game not your heart in the final seconds.
Fortunately for Veyseloglu, the man who he is going to be buying lunch for tomorrow had got this. Bobby Dixon tonight was worth the €5 I paid to watch the whole TBL playoffs. In the first half it was like he’d swapped bodies with Steph Curry, making difficult shots look like a breeze. It didn’t hurt that Fenerbahce were once again woeful on D for the opening 20 minutes. Against Real Madrid and CSKA they were ripped apart in the first half of both their games of the Euroleague Final Four. At least in those games Fenerbahce’s clear interior defensive issues were an obvious source of the catastrophe. In this one, they just didn’t look like a Zelijko Obradovic team for the opening 20 minutes and change. We really are talking about basics, like sticking your arm up level basics, and the home side was fortunate to go in just 36-51 down at the half.
Fenerbahce may have missed Karsiyaka’s performance in the decisive Game 3 against Banvitspor in the quarter finals, where they had the type of dominant game that instills the confidence to go up against anybody next time out. Fenerbahce should have known they were facing a side that wouldn’t start this game afraid of the big dog in its own yard. It was on Fener to set the tone and force them to yield.
Through the third quarter they chipped away but they never got under Karsiyaka’s skin. The visitors never looked under immense pressure because even though Fener could make a stop when they absolutely had to, stopping Karisyaka just when it looked like the home side was about to take charge was a non-starter. It took that mistake by Veyseloglu and a tip in by Vesely off a deliberately missed Goudelock free at the death to even slightly rattle the visitors. When you are the big dog in your league, in your own barn, against a team where you own them in bench depth and in the sheer talent level of your starting five, not to mention having Zoc as your man on the sideline, you are meant to be able to force some kind of a mental edge.
Credit however to Dixon for keeping his cool at the death. In overtime he carried Karsiyaka when it looked like Fenerbahce had his side starting to creak and he made the last 2 of his 27 points at the line to seal the 96-97 upset. Fener will still be favoured in this series but at least Karsiyaka know that if they hold serve from here, they are going to the finals.