After his Anadolu Efes team hit some bumps in the playoff series with Real Madrid, Vasilije Micic did all he could to ensure they’d leave no doubt against CSKA Moscow. It didn’t quite go to plan but Efes survived to get their shot at the big one. Emmet Ryan on how the Serbian proved his MVP credentials but had to watch on and pray as Efes stumbled into a second straight title game.
There was no match-up that worked. No matter who CSKA Moscow put on him, Vasilije Micic had their number. Points were scored, dimes were dished, fouls were drawn. Whatever he wanted to do offensively, he just did on Friday evening. Defensively? For most of the night he and his Efes team mates were effectively impenetrable. CSKA lived off scraps until the final quarter, when they were energised by a late third quarter Will Clyburn dunk to mount some form of comeback.
Micic was used to this. Through the final three games of their best of five series with Real Madrid, Efes found ways to give up huge leads. What should have been a sweep became 2-1, 2-2, and took some hero ball from Krunoslav Simon, to not suffer a reverse sweep. Micic was in no mood for a repeat. Once CSKA got it back to within 10 points, he raised his game again.
It’s not been the easiest road for the Serbian. As a prospect, he looked nailed on as a certain star in Europe who would have a short stay on the continent. A move from Mega Vizura to FC Bayern was expected to be a one or maybe two year situation before he joined the process of the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. While a late second rounder, his size and overall game seemed tailor made for what Philly wanted.
Instead, he stuttered at Bayern and moved in the middle of his second season to Crvena Zvezda. That brought a bit of life to him but the star had faded a bit. The breakthrough wasn’t there. The energy came back with a move to Tofas in Turkey, and the move forward was clear with a season at Zalgiris.
It’s at Efes though where he has made enormous strides. Through three seasons, albeit one of them shortened by the pandemic. That first year, he and Shane Larkin powered Efes to the title game for the first time where they fell to CSKA. Last season, they were the most exciting basketball team to watch anywhere. Efes games became appointment viewing.
There was a sluggishness to the start of this year, a mix of injuries plus a hangover caused by what might have been the prior year. Still Micic was moving on. He’d become the equal of Larkin in importance during the pandemic shortened year. This season? He has somehow overtaken the most exciting man in European basketball. By season’s end, there was no doubt he would lift MVP honours and Efes were in Cologne as favourites to win this.
Not that the first half really reflected it on the scoreboard. Micic was doing work fine and Efes dominated but they somehow only led by 12 at the break. It stretched to 21 and felt like a done deal entering the final frame before CSKA’s comeback. This was awfully familiar but Micic looked to have made a game-changing play, drawing an offensive foul with just over three minutes remaining to put a halt to CSKA’s comeback.
That’s what it looked like. Of course, this Efes season is insane so instead Micic was called for an offensive foul at the other end moments later and that was his fifth, leaving him out of the game for the conclusion.
It was an unusal and, frankly, unnerving way for Efes to end this game. Sertac Sanli and Rodrigue Beaubois had both been stellar but nobody had shone bright than Micic with 25 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds. The job got done, even if the ball wasn’t in his hands when it mattered.
With talk of the OKC Thunder, who now have his NBA draft rights, bringing him over in the summer, this may well be Micic’s last chance to lift the big one in Europe. It would have been such a damp feeling if he missed out on the chance while sitting on the bench. Instead, come Sunday, he’ll want to leave no doubt. Not that he’ll mind if he’s standing with the trophy in hand.