It wasn’t a classic but that won’t matter to the fans of Los Blancos. In a game that had more stoppages than most would like, Real Madrid were led by Luka Doncic to victory over in the 2018 Euroleague title game. Emmet Ryan on the probable end of an era for the youngster at the Final Four
The pressure was on Luka Doncic going into this one. Less than 24 hours after being named MVP on the season, he was leading Real Madrid into as hostile an atmosphere as it gets. Fener’s fans were loud and rowdy from the off. The venue may have been neutral but this may as well have been Istanbul such was the sea of blue and yellow in the stands.
On his first look, Doncic got a whole lot of Marko Guduric in his face. Airball on the attempted three. Nikola Kalinic nails one for Fener at the other end before Doncic quickly ran up the floor to get his first score of the game. A quick stop on Kalinic on the other end and the kid was settled. An open jumper and he’s found his rhythm. The crowd wasn’t taking him out of this one.
Real were still stuttering outside of their young leader. Ahmet Duvieroglu was getting inside easily and the link up between Facundo Campazzon and Gustavo Ayon was off to a shaky start. Fener were bringing their bruising game to make the floor smaller and the only guy getting anything out of it offensively for Los Blancos was Doncic. Duvieroglu was matching him on the scoreboard. The rangy man was expected to have trouble against the more savvy Real bigs but was plenty comfortable going up against Ayon. Duvieroglu, the only man with a Jordanian league winner’s medal as well as a Euroleague championship on his resume, was causing too much trouble for Pablo Laso and he called in the troops midway through the opening frame.
Doncic sat as Laso changed things up, bring in Sergio Llull and defensive specialist Jeffrey Taylor. Ayon soon sat for Edy Tavares after getting taken apart by Duvieroglu. This was looking a bit like Fenerbahce’s win on Friday where they appeared the strong side but weren’t making enough of that edge on the scoreboard. A three from Rudy Fernandez tied things up and the early efforts of the Istanbul club looked to have been wasted. Another triple from Llull and Madrid went in front for the first time in the game. After 10 minutes a Real side that had looked in rougher shape through the frame held a 21-17 lead, capped off by an Anthony Randolph three.
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A smooth start from Real stretched the lead to 8 early in the second as Zeljko Obradovic called his side in for a chat. The crowd had gone quiet and Fener’s bustling approach had become tame. A dose of aggression was needed. Nicolo Melli gave the Fener fans something to shout about with a three and a crossover lay-up before capping off a personal 7-2 run with a dunk to bring it back within a score.
Doncic came back in mid-way through the second. This time Madrid were going with a more balanced line-up, with Jaycee Carroll, Taylor, Tavares, and Randolph on the floor. The switch wasn’t slowing Fener’s offence however and Laso had to take a moment. What followed was an unusual string of line-up changes.
The introduction of Trey Thompkins did the trick in terms of spacing, giving Real the room to stretch. Doncic found an open Tavares inside as the pressure came down for an easy finish. The big man was getting more space as Fener switched Jan Vesely onto Doncic duty but Laso replaced him with Randolph to try and add a touch more athleticism on the interior. Then Campazzo came in for Doncic as Real looked to finish the half smaller. It didn’t looked the smartest call as Fener looked happy to go into bruiser mode immediately. Laso reacted quickly, switching Doncic in for Campazzo again.
The end result of all these moves was a half-time score that pointed to the uncertainty across the two sides through the opening 20 minutes. A 40-38 lead for Fenerbahce and a big third quarter ahead.
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Fabien Causeur tied things up at the line to start the second half but Doncic was looking a little worse for wear. He was favouring his left left a little and didn’t look his usual fluid self. The rest of the outfit was taking care of things early while he stood off a touch, reeling off a 7-0 run to start the half. Once more it was Melli who got Fener out of their slump to open their account. The Italian, annually discussed a guy who could go to the NBA, was in fine form here. His second three of the night roused the crowd from their slumber, bring him to 16 points on the game.
Doncic with the pull-up three, his first score since the opening period, but he picked up his third foul of the night right afterwards. He’d only drawn 2 so far, well off his normal pace. He winced as he went back up the floor off a missed three, favoring the leg again.
The chaotic nature of the game showed little sign of letting up as we hit the tail end of the third. Real were ahead but both sides were struggling to score. Doncic sat for Causeur to close the frame as Felipe Reyes took care of business at the line. A swat by Tavares led to a Causeur score and Real were moving that little bit out again. It was getting scrappy out there with neither offence shining but it was Los Blancos doing less to hurt themselves. With 10 minutes left in the season, Real led 63-55.
Doncic returned to start the fourth. Zeljko Obradovic also made a big change, going to Bobby Dixon aka Ali Muhammed who had come big in Friday’s semi-final. Having been quiet all night in this one, it was a gamble by Zoc to go to his little guy but Dixon quickly drew a pair of fouls from Llull. That brought him to 4 on the night and Laso had to quickly replace him with Carroll.
Melli drove in and got the and-one after Tavares timed his move poorly. The on and off Fener crowd was only responding when the Italian got them going. The glacial pace of action didn’t help, with stoppages aplenty. A third three of the game for Melli and it was clear who was going to save Fener to have a shot in this one.
Doncic meanwhile was finally starting to draw some fouls, getting two in quick succession off Kostas Sloukas and Gigi Datome before forcing an unsportsmanlike from Jan Vesely. The kid made both from the line to once more give his side a little bit of air before a Carroll bomba gave Real a double-digit lead.
It was clearly slipping away now for Fenerbahce. They were struggling to move the ball with any kind of coherence and Doncic, once more, got himself to the line. That was his sixth drawn of the night as normal service had resumed. Melli went deep again but the roar from the Fener fans was more muffled this time.
As Fener looked to be tiring, Laso went back to Llull but he fouled out within three possessions. Melli and Dixon got them back moving briefly but the stop-start nature of business prevent the Istanbul club from developing any kind of rhythm.
Whatever was ailing Doncic earlier seemed to have dried up as he blocked Brad Wanamaker before drawing his seventh foul of the night, Dixon giving it up this time. Real were in closeout mode and the kid was getting it done. Both free throws were made and the lead was 9 nearing the final minute.
Then the rush of blood to the head he didn’t need. Doncic picked up his fifth of the night with 38.6 seconds left on the clock. Having seen his pass intercepted, Doncic chased down Wanamaker and put in an arm wildly to be out of the game.
With Llull and Doncic bought unavailable, Laso had no choice but to go back to Campazzo to close it out. The lead was down to 5 points and he had a defensive liability as his lone option for the closeout. Fener went right for him but Campazzo just offloaded to Carroll in time, Vesely gave up the foul and that was his night.
Then Big Game Bobby dropped a bomb and it was a one-possession game. 22.4 on the clock. Having looked lost for the guts of the second half, there was life in Fener yet. Causeur to the line, the first rims out hard. The second bobbles before Trey Thompkins made the biggest play of the season, gathering the offensive rebound and scoring the put-back.
After all the stopping and starting, Real had survived. La Decima was theirs. Doncic took MVP honours for the Final Four to add to his season MVP and Rising Star Award. In a few weeks, he’ll hear his name called early in the NBA Draft. If this was his last outing in Euroleague, he couldn’t have finished on a better note.
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