Is Anadolu Efes Istanbul nothing more than a one-season wonder? It might be tempting to think so, because the Turkish champion has not exactly been a regular at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four, advancing to the end of season showpiece for the first time since 2001 when it made it all the way to last season’s championship game.
After Efes tipped off the new campaign by losing at home to FC Barcelona, there were more than a few doubting voices who were already starting to believe that Ergin Ataman’s team – as well as they had done last season – was ready to return to the realms of the also-rans. That their new-found place among Europe’s elite would prove to be short-lived.
Don’t believe that for a second. Efes has rallied from that opening day upset to put together a 5-2 record, flexing its muscles with a convincing 67-86 victory at Olympiacos Piraeus on Thursday night. The ruthless nature of its performance suggested that Efes is playing with a sense of unfinished business, and the words of star guard Shane Larkin also emphasized his team’s determination to go one better this time around.
"I think we brought a lot of the same pieces back from last season, and we have all the talent to make it back as far as we did then and win that final game," Larkin told EuroLeague.TV immediately after Thursday’s game in Piraeus. "That's what we’re all focused on."
Of course, chief among those 'same pieces' who have returned to Efes from last season are Larkin and his fellow star guard Vasilije Micic, who have a fair argument for being the best backcourt duo in the competition. It certainly looked that way against Olympiacos, with Micic making 5 of 6 three-pointers to register a career-high 27 points while Larkin converted 4 of 5 two-pointers and 3 of 3 triples for a total of 24 points, as well as grabbing 6 rebounds and making 3 assists.
With a combined total of 51 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals in Thursday’s win, it’s clear that Efes is blessed with a huge amount of talent with Larkin and Micic in the backcourt. And Larkin – although briefly remembering to revert to the 'one game at a time' mantra of professional athletes – left no doubt that there is also a huge amount of desire and ambition, too.
"We’ve got to go from game to game, but our main goal is to win the EuroLeague," he said. "And I think we’ve got a good chance of doing that."
When Larkin and Micic are in this kind of mood, it's hard to disagree.