Anadolu Efes Istanbul entered the season with the highest of expectation and the bar set at an all-time high. After reaching the 2019 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game and then dominating the 2019-20 season, which was prematurely ended by the COVID-19 pandemic, Efes was not hiding its intention to compete for EuroLeague glory.
However, Efes started the season flat and needed time to find its groove. Without Shane Larkin in the lineup, Coach Ergin Ataman's men lost three of their first four games, including back-to-back defeats at home to start the season against Zenit St Petersburg and crosstown rival Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul.
Efes went on its first little run in Round 6, when it edged Olympiacos Piraeus, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in consecutive weeks by a combined margin of 10 points. The team seemed to be moving in the right direction and was sitting on a 6-4 record, but could not sustain the form during a tough stretch of games that followed.
The team suffered a 59-77 home loss at the hands of TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and soon came a three-game losing streak that included a road loss against Valencia Basket on Klemen Prepelic's buzzer-beater, a 35-point defeat against CSKA in Moscow, and a home loss against AX Armani Exchange Milan, which dropped Efes's record to 7-8. Efes beat first-place FC Barcelona 86-79, but finished the first half of the regular season with a 65-73 home loss against Real Madrid that dropped the team into 11th place.
Once the calendar flipped to 2021, Efes turned into the team everyone expected to see this season. It started January with three consecutive wins before hitting its most impressive stretch of the season.
Efes was undefeated in eight games between January 26 and March 16. An 86-88 road win in Barcelona indicated that something was brewing, but what followed were six straight wins of 22 points or more for an average margin of victory of 25.3 points.
The run included a rally from 15 points down in an impressive 76-53 win against Olympiacos which made some EuroLeague history, followed by a 28-point road win over Fenerbahce behind a career-high 37 points from Vasilije Micic. The ensuing two-round week saw Efes enjoy a 16-point win over Valencia and a 100-70 drubbing of CSKA which head coach Ergin Ataman called 'perfect basketball'.
Efes, naturally, rocketed up the standings and moved into third place with a 19-10 record. A last-second 80-79 defeat in Munich was just a small bump in the road, as Efes proceeded to win three more games. Efes clinched a playoff spot with a resounding 83-108 win in Round 32 over its eventual playoff opponent Real and locked up home-court advantage two days later with a 101-111 road win against Baskonia, as Shane Larkin exploded with a season-high 30 points in the arena he knows so well while Efes set a club record for points scored.
Efes had the luxury of taking a day off in the regular-season finale in Milan, but that did not shake the team's confidence heading into the playoffs and a best-of-five series against Real. Officially the reigning runner-up, Efes plans to keep playing like a title contender and is determined to showcase more of its 'perfect basketball'.