Through all the adversity they faced early in the season — injuries, illness, and mounting losses — Shane Larkin and his Anadolu Efes teammates never backed down from the challenge in front of them, never lost sight of their goal.
On Sunday in Cologne, Germany, they achieved that goal. They are the Champions.
Shane scored 21 points, including a three-point play that gave his team the lead for good in the 37th minute, as Anadolu Efes completed an incredible climb to the peak of the EuroLeague with a 86-81 victory over FC Barcelona.
The win completed a three-year journey for Efes, starting with a dominant 2018-19 season that came up short of a championship, followed by a dominant 2019-20 season that was cut short by the worldwide COVID pandemic. Though Efes wasn’t as dominant at times during the 2020-21 season, they combined their signature skill with relentless effort and undying heart to finally reach the pinnacle.
“Three long years,” Shane said after the match. “This is called justification.”
Efes got off to a good start in the championship match, but it was Barcelona that surged ahead late in the second quarter to take a seven-point lead after one. They pushed that lead to 10 early in the second, but Efes followed with a 9-0 run to trim the lead to a single point. It remained a close game for the rest of the half. Efes eventually pulled ahead when Shane knocked down four consecutive free throws over the course of three possessions to give his team a 30-29 lead. Shane ended up sinking all 12 of his free-throw attempts in the championship match, and eight of them came in the pivotal second quarter.
After being pushed with their back against the wall in the first, Efes led by three at halftime.
“We had to save [our energy]. We knew we were going to play a lot of minutes today,” said Shane of his team’s methodical start. “We had to save a little energy cause we knew it was going to be a close game to the end.”
Indeed Shane did play almost 37 of the game’s 40 total minutes. But Efes needed every ounce of his energy and effort to take down Barcelona. They pulled ahead by a wide margin in the third, as Shane and Vasilije Micic, the EuroLeague and Final Four MVP, both got going to carry the scoring. A steal by Shane in the 24th minute led to a fast-break bucket to give Efes a seven-point lead, and Micic followed with a three to make it a 10-point game. After Barcelona answered it was Shane who connected from deep to stake Efes to an 11-point lead.
They led by seven entering the fourth quarter.
Though the margin of victory for Efes was five, it was not an easy road over the final 10 minutes to reach that point. Barcelona, the league leaders through the 2020-21 campaign, would not go down without a fight. After Shane and fellow former NBA standout Nikola Mirotic traded baskets in the 34th minute to make it 69-64 Efes, Barca scored the next five in a row to knot the score at 69-69.
Micic buried a triple to put Efes back in front, but Barcelona’s Cory Higgins answered with a less conventional three-point play, getting a shot to fall while drawing a foul. His subsequent free throw knotted the score for the final time. On the ensuing Efes possession, Shane put Efes in front for good, using his supreme speed to get to the basket where he drew a hard foul and still got a runner off the backboard to fall. He also made his free throw to follow, making it 75-72 in favor of Efes.
Micic was also clutch down the stretch, with a pair of buckets in the final three minutes, each extending the lead back to five. Efes’ most valuable dynamic duo combined for 46 of the team’s 86 points in the championship match.
The game became a free throw shooting contest in the final minute, and Efes made 5-of-6, two from Shane and three from Micic, to keep Barcelona at arm’s length and hold on for the championship victory.