Credit: Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

All odds were against Barcelona. Three players injured and not even with the team in Istanbul, the biggest crowd of the season in Sinan Erdem supporting their heroes as loud as ever and defending champions, Anadolu Efes, finally finding their championship groove.

Player of the Game
Sertac  Sanli
Sertac Sanli
Points 24
Accuracy 9-11
Rebounds 3
Assists 1

So with his team down by ten and 47 points allowed in the first half, Sarunas Jasikevicius' pep talk in a locker room was straightforward.

"Listen, just tell me you believe we can win here," the coach said to his players during halftime. "If you tell me that you believe we can win here then I continue going crazy on the sidelines like I always do. If not, I just sit down and don't waste my health."

Saras had already picked a technical in the first half, and he said he could not watch his team giving away 'cheap' points to Anadolu Efes.

The hosts, backed by more than 15 thousand loud fans, shot 18 free throws in the first half and made 16. Efes were upfront 47-37 despite poor shooting from downtown (3/11).

So starting the third quarter, Jasikevicius put a lineup that Barcelona had not used before this season, with Nigel Hayes-Davis playing at a two, Nikola Mirotic at a three, and Brandon Davies and Rolands Smits sharing the frontcourt duties.

It was thinking out of the box as Barcelona are missing Nick Calathes, Cory Higgins, and Alex Abrines, all out due to injuries.

It did not begin well for that huge Barca lineup as visitors were trailing 45-57 with 6 minutes to play in the third after Shane Larkin made a three after crossing over much taller but slower Smits.

Barca were still down by double digits with 3 minutes to play in the third (53-64), but they finally started climbing from the hole.

Mirotic, playing at the small forward, scored 5 points, Sertac Sanli and Sergi Martinez added 2 points apiece, and the game was on - 64-62.

Points this season

Points made: 83,1
Accuracy: 47,5%
Place in standings: 2
Record max: 98
Record min: 69
Best scorer: Vasilije Micic

"We worked a bit with a big lineup in the last couple of days, but still, in the end, it was not the big lineup," Jasikevicius said. "Maybe it surprised them for a moment, but I don't think it had an effect. The key number is 12 allowed points in the fourth. And a lot of them were at the end when we had plus five and were in control of the game."

Having scored 68 points through three quarters, Anadolu Efes then could not buy a basket for 4 minutes, and Barcelona went upfront 72-68.

It was actually Sanli who got Barcelona going in the fourth. He alone scored more points (13) in that quarter than his former team (12).

Credit Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Sanli hit 3 three-pointers in the last quarter alone and scored a career-high 24 points overall.

Quite a time to have the best game of his career.

"It was a really hard game to play, but I needed to be professional and I did my job. That's it", Sanli said in a postgame interview with Euroleague TV. "It's hard to play against the guys, I spent three years with them."

Sanli played for Efes in 2018-2021 and became a Euroleague champion last May. But in the offseason, he chose Barcelona, the team, that he beat in the finals. He was greeted with boos at Sinan Erdem.

As a former player, Jasikevicius knows a thing or two about how emotional these games can be.

"It is emotional to come back home for the first time. And now he is coming to play against his team", Jasikevicius said. "Sertac was all over the place when we came to play Fener. He was walking through Sabiha airport like a hero returning home. So inside the staff, we talked 'We don't have him tomorrow.'

"I doubted if I should talk to him about Fener experience or not. I didn't speak with him; I just let it go because I understood how difficult it was for me to come back to play against Zalgiris and some other teams that I played for. Probably he is a smart guy; he understood his situation. I thought he was very solid and could've played even better if he didn't get into foul trouble."

Barcelona missed a chance to close a game when Hayes-Davis missed two free throws with a minute to play, as hosts answered with five straight points, and it was 80-80 with 20,4 seconds to play.

Jasikevicius had a time-out left but chose not to use it and watched Mirotic miss a potential game-winning floater at the end of the fourth quarter.

"I thought I didn't want to break the rhythm, but I was second-guessing myself as soon as I entered the coaches' locker room and asked them what they thought about my decision not to call a time-out. My assistants maybe didn't want to get in trouble with me, but they said it was OK", Jasikevicius joked. "But I was second-guessing myself because I knew the offense I was going to call, but we didn't look so good."

"I didn't want to break the rhythm, we still had 24 seconds, I didn't know if Efes were going to foul us to put us on the line so we maybe miss one, and they can have the last ball. That was my idea. I was really second-guessing myself."

In a game full of emotions, Saras was hit with a technical in the first half and was actually walking a thin line with the referees in the second. But it was his opponent, Ergin Ataman, who was ejected from the game.

With 2:45 to play in the OT, Ataman got two technicals in a row and had to leave with his team trailing 84-87.

Just before that Shane Larkin received his 5th foul on a dubious call while trying to steal a ball from Kyle Kuric.

Larkin took it to Instagram moments after the game to complain about refereeing.

"I don't ever come to Instagram with stuff like this, but this is bullshit. Unbelievable", Larkin wrote. "The other team's star player fouled out (Mirotic) and this guy wanted to cal some shit on me to get me out of the game too".

"Congrats to Barcelona on a tough win. I'm not taking anything away from them or their players. They earned a tough W. Bus this call is fuckin bullshit".

Ataman was not available for comment after the game as his assistant Yakup Sekizkok spoke in a press conference.

However, Barcelona's Jasikevicius also let it be known that he did not like some of the things he saw on the court.

"It's better to complain about things when you win because when you lose, everybody thinks you are using an excuse. We were not exactly happy after three quarters with what was going on. A similar situation was in the final. In these situations, all you do is fight for your team. If you go, you go. I think my players will mostly not understand if I don't fight for them", Jasikevicius said.

It was Barcelona's fifth victory in a row, and with an 11-2 record, Catalans are tied for first place with Real Madrid.

But this time, it was more than a point in standings.

"No question, this is a special win. You come to a champion's house, and some things are not exactly going for us. We managed to pull it out", Jasikevicius said.

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Stambulo Anadolu Efes
Barselonos FC Barcelona
Field goals

Best players

Vasilije  Micic
26 PTS
7/13 FG
9/11 FT
Sertac  Sanli
24 PTS
9/11 FG
2/4 FT
Adrien  Moerman
Nikola  Mirotic
Shane  Larkin
6 As
1 TO
34 MIN
Nicolas  Laprovittola
8 As
3 TO
31 MIN
Vasilije  Micic
31 EFF
50% 2P%
60% 3P%
Sertac  Sanli
25 EFF
83% 2P%
80% 3P%