Credit: Aykut Akici/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Aykut Akici/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Agreed, basketball is a game of runs. But that would be an understatement. It is also full of surprises, emotional rollercoasters, drama, and luck. Lots of luck.

Player of the Game
Tibor  Pleiss
Tibor Pleiss
Points 23
Accuracy 8-11
Rebounds 7
Assists 0

Anadolu Efes came over Crvena Zvezda with Vasilje Micic's free throws to reach 9-8 and last playoff spot. A few hours later, another drama ended up with free throws between Barcelona and UNICS. Game of the season so far? 

"Basketball is an interesting sport," said Ergin Ataman explaining this late-game experience with his sincere and humble words.

"Honestly, our opponent deserved to win. When it was 15 seconds left on the clock, we preferred a quick but yet, good quality two-pointer instead of an unbalanced three," he continued.

"Then we were planning to foul, and we manage to do that. But of course, we were lucky that Nikola Kalinic missed those free throws. Because luck was on our side, well, we can say that was good coaching (smiles)."

Crvena Zvezda coach Dejan Radonjic was lamenting for the last possessions, though. For him, everyone creates their own luck.

"Of course, Kalinic has a great impact on the game. He is the leader of the team. But he missed the free throws. It was a mistake, so I'm not happy," he said.

"We had a good chance to win the game and deserved to win. At the last minute, we made some mistakes defensively as well. We played a good game, but you cannot give them free throws for the win," he added.

The latest part was a big drama, but to be fair, this was a very strange game from the very beginning. 

Crvena Zvezda, a team with one of the best defensive credentials in EuroLeague that allows no more than 78 points per game, could not stop Efes from sending 31 points in a single quarter.

"We started the game in an excellent way. Until the first quarter, I thought we had a chance to show our real basketball," said Ataman.

But this was just the beginning.

The Efes' perfect spell did not last long. Zvezda reacted very abruptly and trimmed the deficit into a single point in merely 3:15 minutes into the second quarter. They managed to reach 46 points as one of the least efficient offensive teams in Euroleague. This game was so hard to put into some pre-determined context. 

"Crvena Zvezda is an excellent team, and they are one of the best defensive teams in the EuroLeague. We all knew this. But also, they played very well in the offense as well. Kalinic had a great game. Nate Wolters, Nikola Ivanovic, even Stefan Lazarevic," admitted Ataman.

"But in the second quarter, I tried to make some rotations. We had experienced players. Krunoslav Simon, Micic, Elijah Bryant. We lost control of the game. We lost our balance.

We forced some bad shots and made turnovers which brought down us in the defense. After that, the game was Zvezda's to take," Ataman explained.

Once again, it was Micic's magic that clinched the game for Efes in the very end. Interestingly, Micic found all his 21 points in the second half. 10 of them were the last points of Efes.

But until that far, it was Tibor Pleiss' unexpected 3-point support that kept Efes afloat against a sharpshooting Crvena Zvezda.

Let's put it this way: Pleiss made 41 3-pointers in his entire Euroleague career (256 games). Until this game, he had 7 this season. Tonight, he made 5 out of 5. Coincidence?

"This stemmed from the Zvezda's defensive scheme," Ataman said. "They prioritize to contain the drives to the rim, and hence, they choose to drop into the paint. As Kuzmic was waiting inside, we pushed Pleiss outside."

"But the first shot is important. These types of players have such a pattern; if they are successful in the first attempt, their confidence gets solidified and can keep up the rhythm," he added.

Pleiss, on the other hand, appears to be surprised by his accuracy. He trusts the gut feeling, as we may put it.

"I didn't know that I could send 5 threes. I'm not forcing it. I was just shooting the ball when I had a good feeling. That's it," said the German forward.

Pleiss was happy to provide a nice Christmas gift to his family, who came to visit him. The family reunion was crowned by his joint second-best game after 30 points showdown back in 2014 when he was a Baskonia player. 

Perhaps the decisive factor for Efes to keep the chase despite falling behind by 9 points was the defensive pressure.

Five different players made steals, including two consecutive ones by Bryant Dunston. He also made 3 commanding blocks and arguably, played the best game of the season.

"Dunston played well against Maccabi, too," Ataman said.

"After Pleiss was injured in Tel Aviv, he stepped up both in defense and offense in the 2nd half. He is coming back to himself. He is doing extra workouts.

He might be older now, but we never gave up on him. He also sees other players who are above a certain age but plays very effectively. We will try to make the most out of him," Ataman concluded.

Efes managed to win a great battle, but the playoff fight is just about to begin. The next game after the Christmas weekend is against UNICS, and we might witness another cliffhanger game in Kazan as only one win separates both teams in the Top 8.

Despite another heartbreaking result, all is not lost for Crvena Zvezda because they still have three games in succession at home. A new streak would boost their chances for higher spots.

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Stambulo Anadolu Efes
Belgrado Crvena Zvezda
Field goals
Free throws

Best players

Tibor  Pleiss
23 PTS
8/11 FG
2/2 FT
Nikola  Kalinic
20 PTS
7/14 FG
3/5 FT
Tibor  Pleiss
Ognjen  Kuzmic
11 REB
Shane  Larkin
9 As
1 TO
34 MIN
Crvena Zvezda Belgrade
Few players
5 As
Tibor  Pleiss
27 EFF
50% 2P%
100% 3P%
Ognjen  Kuzmic
17 EFF
60% 2P%
- 3P%