Bryant Dunston has been a dominant force in the paint for Anadolu Efes Istanbul since 2015. After having been introduced to the EuroLeague scene by Olympiacos Piraeus in 2013, the 33-year-old center came close to winning his (and the club’s also) first-ever continental title last year.
Efes came up short against CSKA Moscow, but that doesn’t mean that they have given up all hope. On the contrary, Ergin Ataman and his men seem eager to come back and claim another Final Four, another shot at the crown.
As Dunston concedes in his chat with TalkBasket.net, the difficulty for Efes to repeat last year’s accomplishments (EuroLeague final and Turkish League) goes without saying: “We’re still in the process. What we know is that in the Turkish League every team is bringing their best effort against us and that’s normal. They want to knock off the champions. In EuroLeague too; they see in us a team that is supposed to go back. So, we have to respond better than we did against Panathinaikos”.
There were several factors that decided the outcome in favour of the “Greens” (86-70) and Dunston doesn’t mince his words: “We had a bad game. As a team, we didn’t bring the right mindset for this kind of game, this kind of atmosphere and against a team that plays with a lot of energy. We just didn’t match them. I can’t say that fatigue has anything to do with it. I guess we were trying to do things on offence that wasn’t going for us”.
Apart from the usual suspect Nick Calathes, Georgios Papagiannis and Ioannis Papapetrou stepped up big time in the third period, making the comeback attempt of the Turkish powerhouse into the game even more difficult: “I agree that they changed the game, but at the same time we had the lead for a second. They did their job. Papapetrou hit some big shots, Papagiannis rebounded and made some baskets inside. They played well as a team and everybody contributed”.
On the other hand, Shane Larkin seemed to do almost everything for the Turkish side, despite lacking sufficient support. “He’s an amazing player”, Dunston concurs. “It’s good to have his one-man shows, but we need also other guys to come and step up, play defence especially. If we could get a couple of stops in the key moments, it would have been a different game”.
Anadolu Efes has managed to keep its core of players from last year. For Bryant Dunston, that will be the key to achieving more: “I think so, because as a team we’re really comfortable with each other. We can tell each other anything. When we have game like this, we can talk about it. No one is going to take offence, nobody is taking anything personally. We know our roles as a team and our only focus is to get better. Our chemistry is really good from the beginning of the season”.
Anadolu Efes’s meteoric rise from rags to riches and from the last place in the EuroLeague standings in 2018 to the title game one year later may seem hard to explain, but the Queens-born big man believes that “it was a combination of team chemistry, guys sacrificing for each other, everybody just being open and saying “OK, we want to win. What do we have to do to get there?” and the coach giving us the confidence in ourselves to do that. There’s still more growth to be made, but most of us played amazing last year”.
In contrast to Efes, which covered a long distance, their Istanbul rivals Fenerbahce has been performing surprisingly poorly in the beginning of the 2019-2020 season (1-5 in EuroLeague). Dunston says he’s not really following what they’re doing, but is also sure that “they will turn it around. They have a pretty good system and they will figure it out. Hopefully, we can get our wins against them before it happens”.
This year’s EuroLeague seems pretty open because everybody is able to beat anybody. That’s the reason why Olympiacos’s win in Moscow against the reigning champs CSKA didn’t surprise him, just a few days ahead of the game at the Peace and Friendship Stadium.
“No, I wasn’t at all surprised. It’s going to be good to go back to Piraeus and play again, but we have a mission. We lost to Panathinaikos and we have to win”.