Credit: ZUMAPRESS.com-Scanpix, ABA League/Dragana Stjepanovic
Credit ZUMAPRESS.com-Scanpix, ABA League/Dragana Stjepanovic

The European basketball playoffs were full of unforgettable moments, fiery atmospheres, and many wins after several years of not capturing the league's title.

After the end of the French LNB finals, BasketNews review the playoffs in top European basketball leagues with the main stories of each of the series, the winners, and the MVPs.

Spain

The Spanish Liga Endesa playoffs did not surprise the fans in the early stages. Although FC Barcelona lost once to Joventut Badalona in the semifinals and all four series matches were tight, the Catalan powerhouse moved through to the final.

On the other side, Real Madrid were dominant throughout the entire playoffs, sweeping both BAXI Manresa and Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz on their way to the finals, beating the opponents by an average margin of 11.2 points.

The perennial El Clasico once again awaited the basketball fans in the Liga Endesa finals. Real Madrid were coming off a heartbreaking loss in the EuroLeague final. The head coach of the team, Pablo Laso, suffered a heart attack just before the series and couldn't help the team during games.

On the other side, FC Barcelona had already lost to Real in the EuroLeague semifinal, and their on-court form had been in decline for weeks. Many rumors about the upcoming offseason were surrounding the team. After having a much more difficult series against Joventut than expected, Barca came into the matchup wounded.

Game 1 of the finals stunned Barcelona as Real dominated throughout the match and had a 23-point lead heading into the final quarter. The last 10 minutes were a mere formality, and the team from Madrid comfortably took the series lead.

Game 2 was riddled with controversy as some questionable referee calls went against Real Madrid. First, Brandon Davies hit Fabien Causeur in the head without a foul being called. Then, Edy Tavares was called a ticky-tacky foul against Cory Higgins, whose made free throws ultimately sealed the game.

Game 3 was not in question again as Real won all four quarters and easily retook the series lead. Game 4 in WiZink Center decided whether Barca was going to survive. However, the match belonged to Edy Tavares.

The big man from Cabo Verde took the game over and completely dominated anyone and anything in his way. Tavares scored 25 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, once tenaciously blocked Nikola Mirotic's layup, and amassed a whopping 41 PIR points in the match to guide Real to their first Liga Endesa title in three years.

Tavares was quickly named the Finals MVP immediately after the game. The center averaged 13.25 points, 6.25 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks for 20 PIR during the series.

Greece

The Greek League's final featured another eternal rivalry - Panathinaikos OPAP Athens against Olympiacos Piraeus. However, the teams did not arrive on the same note to the finals.

Olympiacos swept their opponents comfortably throughout the playoffs, beating Persiteri 2-0 in the quarterfinals and dismantling Promitheas Patras 3-0 in the semifinals.

On the other hand, Panathinaikos were challenged in the semifinal round much more than the team itself or its fans probably hoped. The semifinal series against Larisa took to Game 5.

Larisa surprisingly won both of their home matches, sparking a little hope in their fans' eyes ahead of the final Game 5. It ended with staggering quickness as Panathinaikos destroyed Larisa in Game 5 by 46 points, doubling the number of points their opponents scored (89-43).

The final series perfectly reflected how the teams got to the ultimate stage of the competition. The winner of Game 1 was never in question as Olympiacos comfortably defeated their rivals en route to a series lead. However, the first game of the series had to be delayed due to tear gas used outside the arena.

Although Panathinaikos were leading at halftime in Game 2, Olympiacos still took control of the match in the second half and edged out a win to take the series to a deciding Game 3.

After a heartbreaking loss in Game 2, Panathinaikos had no medicine for stopping their eternal rivals, and Olympiacos took the trophy after a five-year drought, marking the end of the illustrious career of Georgios Printezis.

Sasha Vezenkov became the MVP of the Finals series, averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists for 23.3 PIR for Olympiacos.

He scored 25 points in the series' final game, shooting 4-for-5 from the 3-point territory, grabbing 6 rebounds, dishing out 3 assists, and collecting 30 PIR.

ABA League

Now we arrive at the craziest finals series of the bunch - the ABA League, where probably the fiercest rivals met each other. Partizan NIS Belgrade and Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade played each other in the finals once again, and it started where it left off from the very first match.

Although Game 1 was relatively quiet compared to the matches that would follow, it gave ground for what would happen later along the way. Crvena Zvezda took control in the second half of Game 1 and won the first match of the series.

After Zvezda took Game 2 on their home court as well, one of the members of Partizan's coaching staff had something to say to Zvezda fans sitting behind their bench, and the home fans reacted immediately. Various objects were thrown on the field from the stands (glasses, bottles, etc.) at Partizan's players.

There was a controversial episode in Game 2 that sparked reactions both from the clubs and from the league itself. Down by 2 with 10 seconds to go, Partizan's Mathias Lessort deliberately missed the second of a pair of free throws.

The Frenchman grabbed his own rebound and tied the game at 83. However, the referees canceled the basket, judging that the player had left his position before the ball even touched the rim.

The ABA League later admitted the referees' mistake but did not make any decision regarding the game's outcome or the referees' future in the series. This enraged Partizan fans to a level that hadn't been seen in the finals this year.

Once Zvezda players entered the court for warm-up, Partizan fans barraged them with various objects from the stands even before the match. 

After Kevin Punter's big shot sealed the outcome for Partizan in Game 3 with just under a minute remaining, home fans began throwing objects at Crvena Zvezda's bench. The referees immediately suspended the game as both teams, and the game officials headed to their respective locker rooms.

While going to the locker room, one of the referees was hit on his head even though armed security was around. The match ultimately resumed. To avoid the assaults from happening again, Partizan players escorted their opponents to the locker room.

Perhaps fired up from the first win in the series, Partizan manhandled Zvezda in Game 4, scoring a whopping 68 points in the first half, to even the series at 2.

Although no significant fan incidents were recorded, Uros Trifunovic made headlines after expressively gesturing towards the Crvena Zvezda bench following a corner triple in the fourth quarter. After receiving an almost immediate response, a scuffle broke out, with most of the players and coaching staff being active in the altercation.

The final match of the series in Zvezda's home court continued on the same trend. The beginning of the second half of Game 5 was delayed due to the decision of the referee Sasa Pukl to empty one part of the stands.

The Slovenian official saw that some Zvezda fans were in the part of the tribune near the tunnel, where, according to the ABA League ban, they should not be. The chaos continued as all referees left the floor with 6:46 left in the third quarter after fans started throwing objects from the stands.

Eventually, the players of both clubs also left the court, and the game was interrupted. Referees ordered the whole arena to be emptied. This took a long time as some fans were not too hurried to leave.

Crvena Zvezda ultimately took Game 5 and the series after Nate Wolters hit a clutch 3-pointer with 57 seconds to go. Zvezda won the ABA League trophy for the third time in a row.

Ognjen Dobric became the MVP of the Finals. The Serbian forward averaged 12.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists for 13.2 PIR. The Zvezda player had his best match in Game 3 where he scored 20 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and dished out 2 assists for 21 PIR.

Turkey

Anadolu Efes Istanbul came into the Turkish Basketball League's (BSL) finals with a huge boost of confidence having won the EuroLeague trophy a few weeks prior. However, they still had to beat another EuroLeague team that was more rested and hungrier to take the title away from the presumed champions - Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul.

Having secured the no. 1 spot in the regular season, Fenerbahce started the series at home. Cheered by thousands of fans, the home team took the lead in the series after a strong showing in the third quarter, which ultimately helped take Game 1.

The reigning EuroLeague champs played without injured Vasilije Micic, while Shane Larkin exited the contest with five minutes left. The American guard was held down to 8 points, 4 assists, and 5 turnovers.

Marking the return of both guards, Game 2 was hoped to be a different story as Efes are known for their ability to bounce back from tough situations. However, things were completely different. A seismic second quarter in which Fenerbahce outgunned Efes by a staggering 24-point margin (36-12) secured the yellow-and-blacks their second victory in the series.

After taking Game 2, only the most confident Fenerbahce fans expected the series to end in a sweep. Game 3 was a three-pointer show for Anadolu Efes with the team making 19 three-pointers, 14 of which were shared between the superstar guard duo of Larkin, who made 9 of them, and Micic.

Overall, Larkin scored 37 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished out 3 assists for 36 PIR, while Micic provided the team with 29 points and 7 assists for 27 PIR. After the performance, the eccentric head coach of Anadolu Efes, Ergin Ataman, provided one of his signature quotes.

"As I said before, we will never surrender. From now on, they should be the ones worried. On Monday, we are going to tie the series and win the 5th game in Atasehir," the confident coach claimed.

The words seemed to have ignited a fire in Fenerbahce players' eyes. Inspired by a powerful performance from Jan Vesely, Fenerbahce led throughout the entirety of the match against the reigning EuroLeague winners in the hostile Sinan Erdem Dome.

A lackluster night from Larkin and Micic, who combined for 20 points on 7-for-20 shooting and 18 PIR, followed by a strong team effort from Fenerbahce gifted the away team the Turkish trophy after a three-year drought.

Jan Vesely became the MVP of the series. The big man from the Czech Republic averaged 16.25 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists for 23 PIR for the club during the series.

"Vesely being the MVP was a bit emotional, we don't know his exact situation, nothing clear," his teammate Melih Mahmutoglu said at the time. "I have been with him for many years. He has made great contributions, he will always be one of the most valuable names in Fenerbahce and will not be forgotten."

Italy

The Italian League's Finals featured two more EuroLeague clubs battling for superiority. Last year's champions and current EuroCup winners Virtus Segafredo Bologna met AX Armani Exchange Milan, a club that's been consistently good in the EuroLeague during the previous several years.

Milan took Game 1 after clutch baskets from Luigi Datome and Ben Bentil. However, Tornike Shengelia took matters into his own hands in Game 2, scoring 22 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and blocking 3 shots to amass 25 PIR.

The newly-signed player duo of Shengelia and Daniel Hackett tried to keep their club afloat in Games 3 and 4, but Olimpia Milan were simply better, comfortably winning both matchups.

Mouhammadou Jaiteh scored 17 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in the first half of Game 5 for Virtus, Shengelia scored most of his 15 points in the last 15 minutes, and the reigning league champions took the fifth game of the series to try and mount a series comeback from being down 3-1.

However, despite the game being entertaining, the atmosphere on and off the court was almost unbearable at times. Multiple technical fouls were awarded, players were shouting at the referees most of the time, and even in the stands and courtside, the behavior of the fans wasn't exactly blameless.

The security service had to intervene on multiple occasions, sources have told BasketNews, to prevent fights and tense situations.

Kyle Hines' family members, who attended the game, were berated by a Virtus Bologna supporter. Only with the help of other people close to the scene and the security service's intervention a fight was avoided, a source told BasketNews.

"We won the game despite the referees," Virtus owner Massimo Zanetti said to TRC. "It's time to stop with the psychological advantage to Milan and coach Ettore Messina; it's not acceptable."

Zanetti's words sparked an almost immediate response from Olimpia Milan, which called for sanctions against the opponents' owner and called his statements unfounded and irresponsible.

Game 6 of the series was not as competitive as one could've hoped as the duo of Shavon Shields and Luigi Datome sealed the series win and the Italian League's title for Armani Milan.

Shields became the MVP of the Finals. The Armani Exchange forward averaged 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists on 46.5% shooting for 15.8 PIR in the series.

It was the first Italian title for Shields, having previously played for Dolomiti Energia Trento, where he lost twice in the finals in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Shields has played 22 final matches in the Italian championship and did not reach double-figures in scoring only 5 times.

Germany

The least chaotic series of the bunch is coming from Germany. Once again, two EuroLeague teams met in the final, with ALBA Berlin and FC Bayern Munich battling for the German League's title.

Game 1 of the finals was tight for the first three quarters when ALBA went on an 11-0 run to start the last 10 minutes of the match, and that proved to be too much for Bayern.

Game 2 was a similar story. ALBA had a 12-point lead coming into halftime and never lost control of the match. A balanced team effort brought the second win to the team from Berlin to lead the series 2-0.

It was naive to think Bayern would surrender that easily after fighting neck-and-neck with FC Barcelona in the EuroLeague playoffs. Bayern came out swinging in Game 3 and absolutely obliterated ALBA 90-60 to force Game 4 in the series.

It was ALBA's turn to comfortably take the match now. Although Bayern tried to mount multiple comebacks, most notably at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the second half was more of a formality than a tight contest in Game 4

For ALBA, it was the third BBL title in a row, having previously won the trophy in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Johannes Thiemann was named the MVP of the finals.

Thiemann averaged 8.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists for 12 PIR during the series. This made Thiemann the third German Finals MVP after Danilo Barthel (2018, Bayern) and Anton Gavel (2013, Bamberg) since the award was instituted in 2005.

France

The longest-lasting playoffs of the major European basketball leagues come from France. As it became usual, two EuroLeague teams met in the finals as well - LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne and AS Monaco.

The series started off with a pretty close but ultimately comfortable win for Monaco. With Mike James and Alpha Diallo leading the way in scoring, ASVEL had no match for the duo on their side.

A nail-biting series was expected, knowing how intensely the teams battled during the regular season. However, no one could have probably foreseen what happened in Game 2.

ASVEL absolutely demolished their opponents in the second match in Astroballe. The home team gave no chance to Monaco to even think about taking the game as the teams were already separated by 27 points at halftime. A 37-point win (91-54) should have turned the series around. As though it seemed.

When Monaco returned to Salle Gaston Medecin, they were hungry to prove themselves. Although Elie Okobo and James Gist tried to rescue the team late in the 4th quarter, the Monegasque squad proved to be better throughout the match, and Monaco took the series lead 2-1.

Whenever they lost a tight contest to their fiercest rival, ASVEL seemed to have the calmness to come back to the next game, ready to take on the challenge with new energy. The same thing happened in Game 4. A 24-point lead after 3 quarters left no doubts about which team was better that night. The series-deciding Game 5 awaited the teams.

The final match of the Finals was the one to remember. The teams battled back and forth the entire game, with ASVEL leading by 13 points after the first 10 minutes just for Monaco to come back with a vengeance in the second half. Heading into the fourth quarter, the clubs were separated by just two points.

Trailing by those same two points with just under 7 seconds to go, Elie Okobo drove right past Mike James to make the layup and force the foul on top to possibly win the game. However, the Monaco player missed the free throw, and the teams had to go to overtime.

There, ASVEL seemed always to have the upper hand by a point or two, but Monaco pushed back with every possession. Finally, Mike James put his team in the lead with 1:05 to go in extra time (81-80). However, William Howard hit a clutch three-pointer from the corner in the next possession, and ASVEL were back on top.

With a 13-second difference between the shot clock and the game clock, ASVEL had the possession only up by a point (83-82) when Paris Lee stripped the ball out of Chris Jones' hands. A quick outlet pass to Lee from Dwayne Bacon was followed by probably the most important block in domestic basketball this year by William Howard.

ASVEL took the ball and the title. It was the third LNB trophy in a row for the French team.

After playing a brilliant series, Elie Okobo was named the MVP of the Finals. The French guard averaged 16.6 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists for 19.2 PIR during the series. 

All winners and MVPs of the top European basketball leagues

Country Winner Runner-up Finals MVP
Spain Real Madrid Barcelona Walter Tavares
Greece Olympiacos Panathinaikos Sasha Vezenkov
ABA League Crvena Zvezda Partizan Ognjen Dobric
Italy Armani Exchange Virtus Bologna Shavon Shields
Germany ALBA Berlin Bayern Munich Johannes Thiemann
France ASVEL AS Monaco Elie Okobo
Turkey Fenerbahce Anadolu Efes Jan Vesely
Israel Hapoel Holon Bnei Herzliya Joe Ragland
Lithuania Rytas Vilnius Lietkabelis Panevezys Arnas Butkevicius
Belgium/Netherlands ZZ Leiden Donar Worthy de Jong
Poland Slask Wroclaw Legia Warsaw Travis Trice
Latvia/Estonia VEF Riga Viimsi Jalen Riley
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