MADRID — After he watched his fifth three-pointer splash through the net, K.C. Rivers backpedaled down the court and swung his left arm around like the deadly sling it had become.
His momentum almost carried him to the ground and he yelled triumphantly, but it was drowned out by 9,000 Real Madrid fans whose instincts told them to do the same.
Finally, this was the show they’d come to see.
“The guys all year have always been begging me, you know, ‘shoot the ball, shoot the ball, shoot the ball,'” Rivers said. “And I knew at some point it was eventually gonna pay off.”
“Tonight, it paid off.”
Rivers finished with a career-high 21 points in Real Madrid’s 80-71 victory over Anadolu Efes Istanbul. The win gives Real a 1-0 lead in their Euroleague playoff series.
Beyond that, it maintains order at the top of European basketball, which was briefly shaken in the second quarter by Efes’ youngsters Thomas Heurtel, Dario Saric and Cedi Osman.
Saric, 21, and Osman, 20, combined for 12 points in the period. Heurtel, 26, repeatedly collapsed Real’s defense and found the open man. He dished five assists in the quarter.
Real, as a team, had three.
“First half, we kinda had stagnant ball movement,” Rivers said. “The ball hit somebody’s hand and it just stuck there.”
It was an uncharacteristic performance from Madrid. The team entered Wednesday night averaging 22 assists per game this season, which would shatter the current Euroleague record of 19.4.
With Madrid’s normally potent offense stalling, Efes took advantage. They went into halftime with a 43-35 lead, an upset halfway complete for a team that stumbled into the playoffs after losing six of its last eight games.
But in the second half, Real showed why they have reached consecutive Euroleague championship games.
Midway through the third quarter, Rivers hit a cutting Felipe Reyes with a beautiful pass. The Real captain converted the easy two, giving his team a 50-48 lead.
From there, Rivers took over.
He hit three consecutive triples, pushing Real’s lead to eight and the fans into hysteria.
“At that moment I was hot and (the ball) just kept coming and I was just gonna keep firing it up there,” Rivers said.
Despite the first-half scare from Efes, the game ended according to script.
Madrid held a comfortable lead throughout the fourth quarter, fans leaked into the stairways to beat the post-game traffic, and for at least two more nights, order was held in European basketball.
Game 2 is Friday at 19:00 CET (1 p.m. ET) in Madrid. The best-of-five series shifts to Istanbul for Game 3 on Tuesday.
“I think this whole series will be similar — the physicality, the toughness, the chipping, the hitting — it’s gonna be the same,” Rivers said.
“You can expect it from both clubs. They’re not gonna back down. We’re not gonna back down.”