Defending champs Efes back in Euroleague final

Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four drama was served up in the very first game as last season’s MVP detonated a game-winning three-pointer just ahead of the final buzzer for the defending champions.

Anadolu Efes Istanbul will continue to fight for the first back-to-back Turkish Airlines EuroLeague titles in almost a decade after registering a thrilling 74-77 victory over Olympiacos Piraeus in the first semifinal on Friday at the Final Four in Belgrade. Vasilije Micic, last season’s Final Four MVP, broke a tie with a step-back three-pointer from the top of the circle at the buzzer to win it.

Defending champs Efes back in Euroleague final

Larkin led Efes with 21 points, while Bryant added 16, Micic 15, and Bryant Dunston 12. Olympiacos got 12 points from Shaquielle McKissic and 11 from Dorsey, all after halftime for both players. Sloukas and Martin got their 11th point each in the final 61 seconds, and Kostas Papanikolaou scored 10.

Moustapha Fall opened the Final Four with an inside basket for the Reds that Shane Larkin answered with the first three-pointer of the night. Efes kept trying from long range, but unsuccessfully, which Olympiacos exploited to get a 10-5 edge based on the duo of Thomas Walkup and Fall. Kostas Papanikolaou capped an 8-0 run over almost 4 minutes to extend the lead to 12-5 right before a timeout. Efes brought in Bryant Dunston to help stop Fall, and the veteran center scored 5 points in a row, including a rare triple, to revive the Efes offense. Larkin and Elijah Bryant struck from downtown before Vasilije Micic scored a layup to bring Efes ahead 14-18. Kostas Sloukas and Papanikolaou stepped up in response for Olympiacos, combining for 7 points that closed the first period with the Reds leading 21-18.

Hassan Martin and Sloukas boosted Olympiacos early in the second quarter, while Elijah Bryant was the only one able to contribute on offense for Efes. As such, the Reds found no trouble in staying ahead, 29-24. Larkin came to the rescue for Efes with a triple and a pick-and-roll play that Tibor Pleiss finished with a tap-in that made it all square, 29-29. Olympiacos prevented the defending champs from completing their comeback thanks to Shaquielle McKissic and Martin, who boosted the Reds in front again, 38-32. Efes managed to find Micic outside, and he nailed a couple of threes that turned the tables in favor of Efes, 41-42. McKissic provided a fastbreak layup entering the last minute, however, to allow the Reds to hold a 43-42 halftime edge.

Bryant returned the lead to Efes from behind the arc right after the break, 43-45. Micic went to the line right before Chris Singleton drilled a three, and Larkin scored off the dribble to force an urgent Olympiacos timeout at 45-51. Papanikolau tried to stop the bleeding for the Reds with a three-pointer, but Bryant responded with back-to-back bombs, and Dunston detonated a dunk that pushed Efes up by 48-59, the game’s first double-digit lead. Dorsey took the reins in offense with 5 points in a row, as Vezenkov hit his first three of the game to spark Olympiacos. Efes then looked for its frontcourt on offense, but it was not enough to slow down the Reds. A layup by Vezenkov and a buzzer-beating step-back trey by Dorsey made it a thriller again, 63-66, entering the fourth quarter.

The difference remained steady as Singleton and Sloukas swapped buckets right before Larkin returned to his scoring ways to make it 65-70. Olympiacos again found McKissic, who first added a couple of free throws and then dropped a layup that got the Reds within 69-70 with 6 minutes remaining. Nerves took over as the atmosphere got hotter, with just a single free throw for each side in the next 2 minutes. Pless hit twice from the foul line, and Larkin added another free throw to give Efes some air, 70-74, entering crunch time. Olympiacos didn’t wave the white flag, though, as Sloukas made free throws at 72-74 and fed Martin for a game-tying layup with 19.5 seconds left. The final answer came from Micic, who hit the buzzer with a jumper that sent Efes to the final.

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