Pinar Karsiyaka completed an amazing post-season with a 71-85 win over Anadolu Efes to take the Turkish Finals 4-1. Emmet Ryan reports on how Cinderella came to Istanbul with a sledgehammer
A series format is supposed to prevent small clubs from killing off giants. A series is meant to be where the power clubs of Europe are able to overcome off nights and show their supremacy over the course of several games. Pinar Karsiyaka were not the team anyone expected to get through either of their last two series. Instead they not only succeeded, they dominated en route to claiming the Turkish title.
This team with only a fraction of the budget of the two titans of European basketball they dispatched, didn’t need grit or resolve to oust Fenerbahce in the semi-finals or Anadolu Efes in these finals. They took the second championship in the club’s history, the first since 1987, by playing smart, fast, and attractive basketball.
Once more on Friday Efes sought to out-think Karsiyaka. Through the last three games of this series, Efes have sought to limit Bobby Dixon’s impact without leaving too many opportunities elsewhere on the floor. In Game 3, it was an all out assault to shut him down but that left too much room for DJ Strawberry to dominate. In Game 4, their exhaustive defensive rotations contained him for 30 minutes before Dixon exploded and led Karsiyaka to victory in overtime. In the first half here, it was another tweak from Duda Ivkovic. Efes prioritised competing for offensive rebounds, even when they lost they were successful in somewhat slowing Dixon from taking control of the subsequent possession. In the first half however it wasn’t enough to limit the visitors. Strawberry and Juan Palacios were left with too much space, each scoring 12 in the opening 20 minutes, with Palacios killing Efes from the right to guide Karsiyaka to a 38-41 lead at the half.
The other significant change from previous games in this series was the increased role for Cedi Osman. The young Turkish national team player, who expects to hear his name called next week, was trusted more with the ball in hand and he showed the confidence to deserve it. The 7 points and 2 rebounds were nice but it was his confidence driving past players, taking on opponents one-on-one and not blinking, that made him stand out. Osman was a skinny rake in Spain last September. He still has some filling out to do but he has bulked up enough to trust his own combination of strength and speed.
While not the noise of their true home crowd, Karsiyaka had brought more than enough bodies for Efes to think they hadn’t returned to Istanbul. Whistles rained down on every Efes possession. A Kenny Gabriel three sandwiched between buckets by Strawberry and Palacious stretched the lead to 10. Not for the first time in this series it was left to the cool head of Stephane Lasme to calm Efes. A mid-range jumper and a steal by the Gabonese baller slowed Karsiyaka and gave Efes time to regroup.
On the floor Lasme has been the one Efes player who truly gets what Ivkovic sees through this series. It’s Karsiyaka’s ability to get inside an opponent’s head, to make a foe think it is being run into the ground, that hurts teams. Even if the shots aren’t dropping, so long as they keep stuffing opponents it feels like they are going at light speed. Lasme can see through it and his task was to get the rest of his team on point. Of course, it doesn’t help when Jon Diebler drops a corner three and then one from the elbow while under all the pressure.
Dixon may not have been dominant but when he was on, he was on. A spin move past Birkan Batuk ended with a no-look lay-up to push the lead to 12. Having come out with a hard pace early, now it was Efes looking tired and struggling to get up on offence. The title was in sight but there were still 13 minutes to play. It was a critical time for Karsiyaka mentally. After 28 long years, they were close to completing a Cinderella run through the post-season. Having gone to overtime in 4 of their previous 8 games, winning 3, this was a team facing a different kind of psychological challenge. Now it was about trusting themselves to keep the pressure on Efes. Through the closing stages of the quarter, Palacios was in no mood to leave any doubt. At the end of the third, Karsiyaka led 50-67.
Efes brought some fire to start the final quarter but Palacios was playing with obsession. He has no problem throwing himself around for a full game but he was showing more precision this time, determination was bringing with it focus. Lasme kept fighting gamely but the energy belonged to the men in green and red as Gabriel dunked to keep the gap wide.
Stratos Perperoglou finally cut the deficit to single digits inside the four minute mark as Efes tried to rally late. The breaks however were falling Karsiyaka’s way as thought their offence was stalling, Efes weren’t capitalising. A Gabriel dunk finally woke things up. Ivkovic called a timeout and with 2 minutes to play, it looked like they had missed their chance. Palacios and Strawberry didn’t want to leave anything to chance as they kept the speed up and Gabriel put the exclamation mark on it as they closed the game out.
On Tuesday, Karsiyaka’s representatives have an invite to meet Euroleague’s top brass. By now it should be beyond doubt that this is a team Euroleague needs next season. It wasn’t pluck that carried them over the line. In both Game 4 against Fener and tonight in Istanbul, they finished off their more storied opponents with dominant displays. The season is over in Turkey, the party has only just begun in Karsiyaka.