It’s the heavyweight clash we’ve been waiting weeks for. Fenerbahce, the hosts, against Real Madrid, the regular season champions. Only one of them is going to advance to Sunday’s final. Emmet Ryan breaks down this colossal collision by the Bosphorous
It wasn’t the road anyone expected for either of thee sides but Real Madrid and Fenerbahce are going to lock horns in a battle that everyone is excited for. It’s the main event with good reason. On the one hand you have the de facto hosts. Even though Fener haven’t played in the Sinan Erdem Dome all year and it’s a brand new court, it’s going to feel like home when the thousands and thousands of Fenerbahce fans fill the arena. They face the greatest test in European basketball, a Real Madrid side with depth and options at every position.
Los Blancos got this far by stunning most observers and finishing top of the standings at the end of the regular season. We always knew Real would be contenders but the sheer consistency they showed throughout the season, particularly in games in which they were tested, speaks volumes about their character. Even on the eve of the clash with Fenerbahce, with journalists swarming him, Luka Doncic was calm and composed. The young Slovenian is brimming with confidence but he earned it the hard way. Those first two games against Darussafaka in the playoffs were, in many respects, the making of this young superstar. He was tested and came back firing. Likewise Sergio Llull has evolved into a floor general, Anthony Randolph has become an extraordinary force, and the role players across this Madrid roster are too many to mention.
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Fenerbahce were expected to have the type of regular season Real Madrid had but, beset by repeated injury issues, they struggled to find a rhythm in the regular season. Ever the canny operator, Zeljko Obradovic was unphased. He brought his troops into the Oaka and unleashed the fury of a fit again Bogdan Bogdanovic. Add in the brains of Kostas Sloukas and the raw power of Jan Vesely and Ekpe Udoh, and this is the force we all knew before the season tipped. Even Anthony Bennett, unlikely to feature this weekend, seems to have bought in. Speaking to BiE on the eve of the Final Four, the former first overall pick in the NBA draft looked composed and ready. Bennett knows he probably won’t see the floor but if he does, Zoc knows he is ready.
Mentally these are two stout line-ups with brilliant tacticians as their generals. Pablo Laso and Obradovic are seasoned coaches who know how to claw their way to the top or to win with a deep roster. They know how to mould team and both expect a violent game of chess on Friday.
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Anything less than a thriller will be a disappointment for the neutral but, Fener and Real fans, we understand that you don’t care. We understand that all you crave is to advance on Sunday and that’s why we expect a slobberknocker. You both have sides worthy of lifting the trophy on Sunday. Only one of you will get the shot. Our pick is not because of home court advantage but because we believe Fener can restrict the Madrid deep game enough to come out on top.
Fearless prediction: Fenerbahce