Clutch time as Fenerbahçe out to claim maiden Euroleague title
Özgür Korkmaz – Sinan Erdem Dome, ISTANBULFenerbahçe is one victory away from becoming the first Turkish club to grab the Turkish Airlines Euroleague trophy, and has the perfect recipe with fired up players, anxious fans and a cautious coach.
The club based on Istanbul’s Asian side will take on Olympiacos on May 21 across the Bosphorus in Sinan Erdem Dome, aiming to build up on a brilliant performance against Real Madrid in May 19’s semifinal.
Legendary coach Zeljko Obradovic’s men led from the beginning against the Spanish giant to claim an 84-75 victory, and now they need a similar result against the Greek side, whichstunned CSKA Moscow in the other semifinal, to claim a precious spot in Turkish basketball history.
Obradovic, who is gunning for his ninth Euroleague title with a fifth different team in his 16th Final Four competition, is happy for another chance at the prize, and more than experienced to know that nothing is certain until the final whistle of the very last game.
"I believe that my players and everybody are smart to understand that tomorrow is the game,” the Serbian coach told a press conference on May 20 at the venue of the final.
“We were in this situation last year and know how it is, but there is nothing to celebrate yet,” he added, recalling that Fenerbahçe lost the title to CSKA Moscow last year in overtime.
“We played a good game against Real Madrid - we understood it was necessary to play a good game against them and did our job, and we are in the final. No time for celebrations. Tomorrow is the game and let's see what goes on,” he added.
Remarks by center Ekpe Udoh, who shined in the victory against Real Madrid with 18 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 blocks, showed that Fenerbahçe players got Obradovic’s message.
“We are excited; it is going to be a great game tomorrow, a tough battle. Both teams worked all year for this and we are 40 minutes away. We can't wait for the game tomorrow," Udoh said.
Obradovic has the utmost respect for Olympiacos, and was not shy to show it.
“Olympiacos is a good club with a great organization, they have everything and deserve to be in this position, they know how to come to the Final Four and hpw to play in the Final Four,” he said, adding that the opponent does not matter when you aim for the top.
“For us, it is not important against who we play. We are focused on our job and know we have quality,” said Obradovic.
The Serbian’s praises for Olympiacos did not go unanswered, with Greek coach Ioannis Sfairopolus saying that he will come up against “the best coach in Europe.”
“We need to be very focused and follow the game plan because we play a great team and I think Fenerbahçe is in its best shape of the season,” said Sfairopolus.
“They have a great group of players, they have the best coach in Europe and they play in front of their fans, so our job is very difficult, we are the outsider and they are the favorite,” added the Greek coach, but Obradovic disagreed.
“I agree that we are in very good shape now but the final game is very specific and to me, there are no favorites or outsiders. It will be very tough anyhow, and I believe there are lots of reasons for people to watch this game and to enjoy good basketball," said the Serbian.
Eyes will be on Greek star Vassilis Spanoulis in Olympiacos, hoping that he will play another magical game to carry his side to the title. When asked if he had anything special in mind to slow down Spanoulis, Obradovic said such plans did not always work.
"Before the semifinal game, I tried to prepare my team to stop [Sergio] Llull, and he scored 28 points,” he said.
“This means that not only one player is important. It is important to play against all the players in the team.
This will be our strategy, just this, to be focused and play the game on defense that will be enough to win the game.”
Udoh was more direct when asked about the same issue.
"I have heard all the stories about Spanoulis and everything he does in the clutch, but that is what I said, ‘we have to be able to stop him,” he said.
“That is when he gets going, the final five minutes or something we have to kill him. Not physical, of course, just in the game sense!"
Basketball fans will have to wait until the 9 p.m. tip off on May 21 to see if Fenerbahçe’s attempt to “kill” Spanoulis and company will succeed.