Over more than 250 games, there was plenty to see, hear, absorb and analyze from a 2017-18 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season that kept fans on the edge of their seats for almost eight months. Take a look back at some of the biggest moments and players with these Top 10 turning points of the season!
10) Zalgiris shows it is a contender
Zalgiris had not reached the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs since that phase was reintroduced for good in 2005, but early in the season, the perennial Lithuanian champion showed hints of what was coming next. Zalgiris had a 6-5 record when it entered Ulker Sports Arena to face defending EuroLeague champion Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul. In one of the most thrilling games this season, Zalgiris grabbed an 89-90 road win behind 22 points and 7 assists from Kevin Pangos. Despite trailing 82-77 with over two minutes left, Pangos, Paulius Jankunas and a final three-point shot by Arturas Milaknis – shot a bit early for Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius’s taste, gave Zalgiris the win. Zalgiris carried with a great season en route to a trip to the Final Four.
9) A familiar face makes Panathinaikos better
Sometimes, you have to take every opportunity the market offers to make your team better and that is exactly what Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens did when it signed Mike James. He had already played for Panathinaikos the season before and became a marquee addition, averaging 16.2 points on 63.2% two-point shooting plus 4.1 assists in 12 games. He helped Panathinaikos go on a six-game winning streak late in the regular season, which allowed the Greens to snatch home-court advantage for the playoffs and then to take a 1-0 lead in its series against Real Madrid. That would be Panathinaikos’s final EuroLeague win this season, but the club certainly got a boost from James, whose thunderous dunks, deep three-point shots and overall activity made him a fan favorite in the Greek capital.
8) Khimki reaches the playoffs
This was its fifth EuroLeague season and Khimki had put together a very competitive roster, led by super scorer Alexey Shved, who had earned 2016-17 7DAYS EuroCup MVP honors. James Anderson, Thomas Robinson, Tyler Honeycutt and Anthony Gill rounded out a deep, athletic, competitive squad, coached by experienced boss Georgios Bartzokas. Khimki opened the season with a 5-1 record and stayed in the playoff zone for the better part of the season, as Shved found the bottom of the net everywhere he visited. When Gill and Shved combined for 46 points in a 91-94 road win against Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv in Round 26, the chance to reach the playoffs was within reach. The ticket was punched in Round 27 when Khimki bested Anadolu Efes Istanbul 73-85 behind 17 points from Malcolm Thomas. Khimki reached a big goal and Shved was rewarded when he was named to the All-EuroLeague Second Team and won the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy.
7) Madrid finds a hidden gem in the big man market
Ognjen Kuzmic was already out for the season when Real Madrid lost Anthony Randolph and Gustavo Ayon to the injured list. Ayon missed 18 regular season games and Randolph was sidelined for 14 of those 18, too. Madrid needed a big man to help Felipe Reyes in the paint and found one in Walter Tavares, who proved to be a perfect fit for Los Blancos. Tavares, an All-EuroCup First Team selection with Herbalife Gran Canaria in 2015, had seen limited playing time in the NBA and was hungry to compete. Tall (2.20 meters) and with a huge wingspan (2.40 meters), Tavares averaged 6.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks (second overall, after Bryant Dunston) in 29 EuroLeague games. Most important, even after Ayon and Randolph came back, Tavares continued to see valuable playing time, proving he can become a dominant player in the near future. What a find by Real Madrid!
6) Fenerbahce’s plays a third consecutive final
Not many teams have made it to three consecutive EuroLeague finals, but Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul is now one of them, along with Real Madrid, Maccabi Tel Aviv, CSKA Moscow, Varese, Panathinaikos, ASK Riga and Split. Fenerbahce started its fourth consecutive Final Four against Zalgiris, whose players had no experience in this sort of event. Fenerbahce attacked that weakness from the very beginning, playing at a very high rhythm and forcing Zalgiris to shoot far worse from downtown (20%) than it did until then (42.4% going into the semifinal). Ali Muhammed was the X-factor for Fenerbahce, scoring 19 points in less than 12 minutes. Luigi Datome (16 points) and Kostas Sloukas (14) had solid performances too in leading Coach Zeljko Obradovic into his 12th championship game. Fenerbahce confirmed its status as a true EuroLeague powerhouse.
5) Pedro Martinez joins Baskonia
KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz had a rough start to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season. The team dropped its first four games before head coach and club legend Pablo Prigioni resigned in a press conference after the fourth loss. Baskonia turned to Coach Pedro Martinez, who had led Valencia Basket to its first Spanish League title the season before. It would prove to be a perfect match as Baskonia improved right away, winning six of its next eight games to balance its record at 6-6. A six-game winning streak late in the regular season lifted Baskonia to the playoffs. Power forward Toko Shengelia earned EuroLeague MVP honors for April and was chosen to the All-EuroLeague team. Despite an ugly start, Baskonia was very competitive all season long, especially at Fernando Buesa Arena, home of the 2019 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four.
4) La Decima!
The final was set for someone to get a 10th EuroLeague title, either Real Madrid or Fenerbahce head coach Zeljko Obradovic. Everything worked well for Madrid, which collected 13 offensive rebounds and did not allow Fenerbahce to generate off pick-and-roll situations. Fabien Causeur started and scored a team-high 17 points and Luka Doncic tallied 15 points and 4 assists to earn Final Four MVP honors. Trey Thompkins added 10 points in a true team effort that saw 11 different Madrid players score. A late tip-in by Thompkins essentially cemented the win and started Madrid’s celebrations. Pablo Laso became the first Spanish coach in 37 years to win multiple EuroLeague titles, while Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull, Felipe Reyes, Facu Campazzo, Gustavo Ayon and Jaycee Carroll each won his second EuroLeague ring. Most important, Madrid took its 10th EuroLeague title and its football team won the UEFA Champions League a week later. What a year for Madridistas!
3) CSKA gets first place, sets record
CSKA Moscow finished the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season with a 24-6 record, the best ever under the new format. It never lost consecutive games in that phase and put together a pair of five-game winning streaks and another of six games. Midway through that longest one from Rounds 23 through 28, CSKA clinched first place and would have plenty of time to prepare the playoffs. CSKA defeated Olympiacos 89-81 thanks to a great performance from Nando De Colo – 25 points, just 2 missed shots, 5 rebounds and 4 assists for a performance index rating of 31. CSKA kept competing hard, as always, and qualified for another Final Four by downing Khimki 3-1 in the playoffs. It was CSKA’s 15th Final Four appearance in 16 years, in which is, in terms of consistency, one of the greatest achievements in elite world sports this century. Four teams qualify, and CSKA always seems to be there.
2) Zalgiris goes to the Final Four
It had won its two regular season games against Olympiacos Piraeus and even though the Reds faced injury problems, Zalgiris Kaunas was the underdog in its playoffs series. Zalgiris won Game 1 in Piraeus, 78-87, and also got Game 3 in Kaunas with great authority, 80-60. When the players arrived at Zalgirio Arena for Game 4, the team was one win away from a historic Final Four berth, its first since 1999. Zalgiris played the perfect game, committing just 6 turnovers and hitting 13 of 24 three-point shots (54.2%). Kevin Pangos led the way with 21 points and Edgaras Ulanovas had 20 to lead an unforgettable home win for the 14,411 fans on hand. The Pride of Lithuania, Zalgiris, was back at the Final Four, and it was a long night of celebration for all of its fans.
1) Madrid and the win that changed it all
Real Madrid was on the ropes after a terrible start to the playoffs. Panathinaikos led 20-0 early in Game 1 and that was basically it. Madrid tried to rally, but Panathinaikos cruised to a convincing 95-67 win. Most teams would have crumbled, but Madrid fought back. In Game 2, Madrid trailed 39-36 at halftime and took charge in the second half by scoring 53 points, none more decisive than a critical three-point shot by Trey Thompkins that sealed the outcome down the stretch. Los Blancos leaned on veteran players who had fought many battles like this and won them very often; Felipe Reyes had a season-high 18 points and Jaycee Carroll added 17. Sergio Llull returned to action in Game 3 and Madrid kept winning games until it was the last team standing. All that may not have happened without that character lesson in Athens.