Going into a monumental derby showdown this week against Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, the hottest team in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague right now, it is a good time to ask: How big of a deficit is too big for Anadolu Efes Istanbul to overcome?
Last Thursday night against Olympiacos Piraeus, head coach Ergin Ataman's charges showed that 15 is not that number. Efes trailed by 11-26 at the end of the first quarter and then came back for a 76-53 victory by playing elite defense for the final 30 minutes of action.
The turnaround from 15 down to a 25-point lead in the penultimate minute of the game was the largest swing in a EuroLeague game since at least 2007, when such data was first tracked, for a team that had trailed by at least 15 points. Other teams had come from even further behind to win, but no team on record ever had as large a swing as Efes's 40 points after trailing by 15 points or more. Indeed, no team trailing by at least 15 ever won by more than 17... Until Efes romped past the Reds by 23.
Who could have seen such a swing coming after 10 minutes? In the opening quarter, Olympiacos had made 7 of 11 two-pointers (63.6%) and 4 of 6 shots from downtown (66.7%), outrebounded Efes 5-11 and had just 2 turnovers with 8 assists. A Giannoulis Larentzakis triple after 8 minutes of action capped a 0-9 run for the Reds and gave them their first double-digit lead. Kostas Sloukas's three to end the quarter saw the lead peak at 11-26.
After Olympiacos scored 26 in the first 10 minutes, Efes hounded the visitors the rest of the way and held them to 27 points in the final 30 minutes. A late layup by Sloukas in the final seconds prevented Olympiacos from scoring less in the final 30 minutes than in the opening 10. That had never before happened in the EuroLeague. FC Bayern Munich was the closest when it allowed Khimki Moscow Region to score 28 points in the first quarter and 32 in the rest of the game on January 25, 2019.
Efes was able to turn defense into offense and found its regular go-to guy in Shane Larkin. He had 9 consecutive points midway through a 24-2 run that gave Efes the lead for good before halftime. It was 43-34 at the break as the hosts' 32-8 second quarter accounted for more than half of the game's turnaround. Efes never looked back.
The defense that held Olympiacos to 8 points in the second quarter allowed 9 in the third and 10 in the fourth, while Larkin, Bryant Dunston and Rodrigue Beaubois continued to pump up the Efes advantage, outscoring the Reds by 6 in the third and 8 in the fourth.
Larkin finished the game with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals for a PIR of 32. It was his fifth straight game with a performance index rating of 20 or higher. Dunston added 15 points against his former team and Beaubois scored 11 for Efes.
Scoring 65 points in three quarters is not unthinkable for such a talented Efes squad, which has averaged 19.95 points per quarter thus far. Rather, the story of this turnaround was the Efes defense over the game's final 30 minutes, as the Reds were held to 8-of-19 shooting on two-pointers (42.1%) and 2-of-13 on three-pointers (15.4%), were outrebounded 30-16, and had 20 turnovers against 8 assists. That was the recipe for the EuroLeague's largest comeback on record and quite a feat for Efes to display heading into the stretch run for the EuroLeague Playoffs.