VITORIA-GASTEIZ, Spain (Reuters) – Continental basketball heavyweights CSKA Moscow and first-time finalists Anadolu Efes Istanbul will clash for the Euroleague title on Sunday after beating their respective rivals in contrasting fashion on Friday.
CSKA rallied to edge last season’s champions Real Madrid 95-90 in a spectacular Final Four contest after Anadolu Efes thumped city rivals Fenerbahce 92-73 on the back of 30 points, seven assists and as many rebounds by guard Shane Larkin.
CSKA got sweet revenge on Real for losing last season semi-final, having turned the tide in the last five minutes after trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half.
Their guard Sergio Rodriguez came off the bench to torment his former club Real with 23 points and his tally was matched by Frenchman Nando De Colo, while forward Will Clyburn added 18.
“It was a tough game but we always knew it was going to be,” De Colo said in a courtside interview.
“We never gave up, we did a great job tonight and now we have to shift our focus for Sunday’s final.”
A 7-0 run forced the final twist as it gave CSKA an 89-85 lead, with Cory Higgins coolly sinking four free throws in the final minute to send CSKA through.
The opening match saw Anadolu Efes stun their more heralded cross-town rivals Fenerbahce, who sorely missed their injured Italian forward Luigi Datome.
The 26-year old Larkin, who had fringe roles at several NBA clubs, put last season’s runners-up to the sword with a majestic performance and Serbian guard Vasilije Micic added 25 points in a lopsided contest.
Anadolu Efes scored 14 three-pointers and dominated the boards as they collected 41 rebounds to Fenerbahce’s 21, carving out a 45-40 halftime lead after their rivals had nosed ahead 20-19 at the end of the first quarter.
Larkin scored the opening seven points for his team in the second half and although Fenerbahce briefly cut the gap to 57-53, Anadolu Efes pulled away to 64-55 shortly afterwards and never looked back.
“For me, to be able to do something like this in my second season in Europe, it’s amazing,” Larkin told reporters.
“Hopefully now we can continue to make some history for our franchise and win the championship. Not a lot of people expected us to be here when the season started, and we’re hungry to prove people wrong.”
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)