By Eurohoops team/ email@example.com
Anadolu Efes survived a hard battle against Olimpia Milano to win Game 4 75 – 70 and the playoff series 3- 1, becoming the second team after Real Madrid to punch a ticket for the 2022 EuroLeague Final Four.
Tibor Pleiss registered playoff career-highs 25 points and 37 PIR while Vasilije Micic added 20 points and five rebounds before inviting the Efes crowd to come to the Final Four that is held in his native country.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Pleiss said. “We had not an easy season and that we now beat one of the best teams in the EuroLeague is just a great feeling. Now we have two more to go. The team was amazing. We did a great job together today and in the last few days. I am just happy, too many emotions right now to put into words… I just tried to give my team what they needed the most. I tried to do my job, helping my team win this game. I don’t think so much about what I’m doing, I’m just happy that we won together. I mean, it’s my family and now I go with my family to Belgrade. What a feeling!”
Gigi Datome scored 21 points for Milano while still recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of Game 1 and 2 and restricted his minutes to two in Game 3. Kyle Hines had 10 points and a career-high-tying 12 rebounds for the Red Shoes that made a tremendous comeback in the third and fourth period but fell short down the stretch.
Thanks mainly to a sequence of four straight 3-pointers, Milano turned a 62 – 52 deficit into a 62 – 66 lead early in the fourth quarter. Micic tied the score at 68 with 3:18 to play and then Chris Singleton put Efes up 71 – 68 with 3-4 free throws.
“We didn’t start the season well,” Micic said. “I believe that experience from previous years gave us extra confidence not to give up until the last game, like we did. We played very well in this playoff series, very mature, very smart. Even though I have to congratulate Milan; they fought till the end even though they missed a lot of players, important players. But this is basketball. Every season we face different experiences: COVID, missing some teams, everything that comes together in basketball. The most important thing is that we believed in each other, we stuck together and now we have to forget this – okay celebrate tonight – and turn ourselves towards the next game.”
After erasing a double-digit deficit, Milano made one wrong mistake after the other, giving easy points to Efes. Still, the Red Shoes had good opportunities to tie the game with open looks by Datome and Shavon Shields who both misfired in the same play.
On the other end, Shane Larkin and Micic hit their free throws to call game and series. It was the end of the road in this season’s EuroLeague for Milano that couldn’t cope with the absences of injured Nicolo Melli and Malcolm Delaney and go to the Final Four again. The Italian side was also struggling with other issues such as players returning from injuries and COVID-19.
“I want to congratulate Coach Ataman and his team for making the Final Four,” Milano coach Ettore Messina said. “I congratulate their crowd that created a fantastic atmosphere for this game. And also congratulate my team for a great EuroLeague season that saw us competing with the reigning champions even without a lot of players like Delaney, Melli, Mitoglou, who for us were key players. I am very happy and thankful for the help Chacho Rodriguez and Gigi Datome, coming back from injuries, gave to us and next year we’ll make a commitment to give it another try, to try to go back to the playoffs and fight to make another Final Four.”
With great respect for a tough opponent
Before congratulating his own players, Efes coach Ergin Ataman saluted Messina and Milano for the effort their made despite many adversities.
“Big congratulations to my dear friend, best friend, Ettore Messina and his team,” Ataman said. “It was a great series. We had more luck, especially. All four games, same kinds. We won the game in the last 2 minutes. And they also played incredible. It’s not easy to play in this atmosphere. It’s a great atmosphere, it’s one of the best atmospheres in the world, in Istanbul. I’m so happy for my team, for my players because this team deserves to be back in the Final Four. Two more games for the title! I said last week that we will win again., we will go back-to-back. Now everyone will see that we will be in the Final Four and we will win again!
“We didn’t have a chance to break the game,” Ataman later added in the presser. “During the game, we had some times when we led the game by 10 points, but immediately they came back. Tonight, Gigi Datome played an excellent game, maybe his best game this season, and honestly, we didn’t wait for him to play in this series because we were told that he got an injury, he had surgery two weeks ago, but congratulations to him also that maybe he’s not in the best shape after a long injury, but he played a great game. Congratulations to him personally. Like a coach, he got them out of trouble and they came back in the game. Finally, we played good the last 2-3 minutes. It was the same like the last game. Actually, the four games were the same. Actually, all four games were the same, both teams fought for every ball. Both teams played great defense, in three games we found the way to win in the last 2 minutes. In one game Milan won the same way in the last 2 minutes. It was a great series.”