The 2021/22 EuroLeague playoffs start today and while all four quarterfinals will offer great matchups, the most interesting is definitely the one between AX Armani Milan and defending champions Anadolu Efes Istanbul.
Both teams have a clear objective to win the trophy, but one will surely miss the Final Four, which will be a big disappointment for its players, management and fans. Milan will have the home-court advantage in the series and they surely deserve it. The Italians had an amazing start of the season, leading the league after the first nine games with an 8-1 record. Shortly after they had a four-game losing streak, but overall Milan played constantly well throughout the season. This shouldn’t be a surprise as they have a veteran coach in Ettore Messina and a team full of experienced winners, like Sergio Rodriguez, Kyle Hines, Luigi Datome, Malcolm Delaney or Nicolo Melli. The team owner Giorgio Armani invested a lot of money since he bought the team in 2008 and now his team seems finally ready to win the EuroLeague trophy.
Contrary to Milan, Efes had an awful start of the season, losing five of their first six games. Micic and co. managed to overcome the bad start, but the Turkish team never really looked like the team that dominated the league in the past two seasons. If there was no war in Ukraine and the Russian teams would have finished the season, Efes might have even missed the playoffs, so they have to be happy with the 6th place. However, this is the same roster that won the trophy less than a year ago and if Ergin Ataman can motivate his players they can surely beat Milan and any other opponent they would face in Belgrade in the Final Four.
Besides the home court, Milan has the psychological advantage of winning both games against Efes in the regular season, so the ‘’Red Shoes’’ can be considered favourites. However, Micic and Larkin still play for Efes and they are still the defending champions, so really anything can happen. As former NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich famously said in 1995, we should ”never underestimate the heart of a champion”.