Fenerbahce showed little weakness on its way to the best regular-season record of the 2018-19 EuroLeague campaign. But with an abundance of key injuries impacting the top seed’s lineup ahead of Friday’s Final Four matchup with Efes, Fenerbahce’s Turkish rival has unique opportunity to capitalize.
Fenerbahce manager Cenk Renda said earlier this week First Team All-EuroLeague honoree Jan Vesely was “unlikely” to play in Friday’s matchup, adding to the injury problems plaguing the club ahead of EuroLeague’s championship stage. Fenerbahce was already facing the likelihood of lacking depth in the interior, with fellow big man Joffrey Lauvergne sidelined by an ankle injury.
Lauvergne sustained the injury in Fenerbahce’s 80-70 Turkish Cup final win over this same Efes squad in February. The 6-foot-11 post presence contributed to Fenerbahce’s dominant regular season with 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, but his absence alone didn’t slow the club down the stretch—which included an 84-66 thumping of Efes in Round 24.
The late-season rout avenged an earlier loss to Efes, one of only five Fenerbahce suffered during the campaign. In the 89-83 Round 4 decision Vesely delivered one of his signature performances in an MVP-caliber season, putting up 24 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists for a +36 Performance Index Rating.
Vesely’s numbers weren’t as gaudy in the Round 24 win (eight points, eight rebounds, two assists and a steal), but that contest may have demonstrated more so than the first matchup just how important Vesely is to Fenerbahce’s approach.
The 66 points to which Efes was held marked the high-scoring club’s second-lowest output of the EuroLeague season, including the playoffs. Fenerbahce forced 15 turnovers, and Efes struggled to get looks in the paint, which in turn made the outstanding 3-point shooting team less effective.
Efes comes into the Final Four connecting on 40.6 percent of its long-range shots. In a thrilling, Game 5 win over Barcelona Lassa to advance to this stage, Shane Larkin connected on 5-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Though Efes did not attempt many shots from the interior in its advancing win, the team’s ability to create space off the dribble provided some clean looks from 3-point distance. All-EuroLeague Second Team guard Vasilije Micic dished out 10 assists in the win.
If he can attack off the dribble without the threat of Vesely (No. 3 in EuroLeague Best Defender voting) clogging the paint, Efes could get cooking from deep. And the challenge of containing the third-most prolific offense in EuroLeague is made all the more difficult with Nikola Kalinic possibly sidelined.
Kalinic’s ability to defend all over the court earned him the second-most votes in this season’s Best Defender balloting. During Fenerbahce’s playoff series with Zalgiris, FloHoops’ Ryan Holmes broke down how Kalinic’s stifling defense helps key the team’s offense.
In addition to defensive tenacity, possibly playing without Kalinic also takes away a quality 3-point shooter. The top seed was already weakened in that area coming into the Final Four, the result of Luigi Datome’s scratch due to a calf injury.
There was hope when Datome went out last month he could return in time for the Final Four. But the 2019 Turkish Cup Most Valuable Player was declared out for Friday’s game last week.
Datome powered Fenerbahce’s Turkish Cup final win with 23 points and seven rebounds. He also connected on 3-of-5 3-pointers in the Round 24 rout.
As Efes demonstrated in its early-season victory over Fenerbahce, the way to beat the club is pulling it into a faster paced game. The 89 points Efes scored were the third-most Fenerbahce allowed during the season. Meanwhile, in losses, Fenerbahce allowed an average of 86.8 points per game, an astounding reversal for EuroLeague’s best defensive club.
Shootouts are not Fenerbahce’s forte; keeping pace in such a matchup becomes especially difficult if quality 3-point shooters Datome and Kalinic are both sidelined.