|11 April 2013|
BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Play-offs game 1 MVP: Rudy Fernandez of Real Madrid|
Surprises, Cinderella stories and tales of unlikely heroes are what can elevate a big sporting event into the realm of extraordinary human experiences.
As any Turkish Airlines Euroleague fan will tell you, last season's final became an instant classic not because it offered better quality of basketball than others in recent years, but because of the against-all-odds comeback of eventual champions Olympiacos against runaway favourites CSKA Moscow in the final quarter.
The first gameday of the Euroleague play-offs did not feature any big surprises as all four teams that hold the home-court advantage made the most of it in the first game of their respective series.
Barcelona Regal edged out Panathinaikos 72-70 in overtime; CSKA prevailed 89-78 over Caja Laboral; Olympiacos held on for a 67-62 win over Anadolu Efes, and Real Madrid routed Maccabi Electra 79-53.
Some of these results could be considered as a sign of things to come: It would not be an enormous shock if the Barcelona vs. Panathinaikos and Olympiacos vs. Efes series prove the closest ones to call and even go into five games, or if CSKA punch their ticket to the London Final Four ahead of anyone else.
Others, however, could be a one-off occurrence, as even the most optimistic Real fan does not expect their team to outclass the Israeli champions in three games in a row.
What came as no surprise to anyone though, was the top five names on the efficiency index rating table after the completion of Game 1 on all courts.
Rudy Fernandez returned to Europe (for good) this season and made no secret that he chose to play for Real Madrid in order to win two titles that are still eluding him, the Spanish ACB league and the Euroleague.
The Spanish international registered an efficiency rating of 22 and earned Play-Offs Game 1 MVP honours, as he paved the way for Real on Wednesday with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the floor, six rebounds, two assists and some hard-nosed defence that is not reflected in his stat lines.
The Madrid giants strangled Maccabi on the defensive end, as they went on a 24-1 run in the second quarter to come back from an early 12-point deficit; David Blatt's team, who had scored 23 points in the first quarter, only scored 30 in the remaining three periods in the encounter.
Despite having to battle with an ongoing back injury, Fernandez has so far averaged 14 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals for Real Madrid in the Euroleague this season.
|Dominant post presence: Nenad Krstic |
While Fernandez was showcasing once again his all-round qualities, the player who scored the game-winning basket in last season's final was making a point of his own, in Olympiacos' victory over Efes.
Greek international Giorgios Printezis reminded everyone that he always needs to be treated as a plausible offensive threat, as he finished with 26 points (on 4-for-7 from three-point range) and added four rebounds.
Meanwhile in Russia, CSKA center and Serbia captain Nenad Krstic confirmed he can be a dominant presence under the basket, as he finished with 16 points, five rebounds, one steal and one assist in the Moscow side's win against Vitoria.
Two Turkish internationals of Efes, veteran power forward Kerem Gonlum and center Semih Erden, registered in defeat the same rating as Krstic and Printezis (20) and completed a European-dominated top five on the efficiency index table in Game 1 of the play-offs.
Barcelona play host again to Panathinaikos on Thursday night, while the rest of the Play-Offs Game 2 fixtures take place on Friday.