Two games (Barcelona, OAKA), where small details were the deciding factor and led the Greek teams to remain standing under pressure. Olympiacos and Panathinaikos have begun their “crusade” for Greek basketball’s return to the Euroleague F4. Hoopfellas processes the messages the “eternals” sent this past week.
By Jim Conway on 15 January 2017
This was a week from which we could draw conclusions for the status of our teams and their real position among the competitors. Vassilis Spanoulis was out of action, but Olympiacos bagged an away victory at “Palau Blaugrana”, and one day later Panathinaikos stayed alive in the “Russian roulette” of OAKA against Velimir Perasovic’s Anadolu.
Safe bet and “sleep paralysis”
Olympiacos had a great away win (which is indicative of the team’s status at the moment in the competition) and verified that he has great foundations in the “elite” and the small lobby of the teams that stand out at this moment for the race for the much-wanted home advantage in the post season. Their away wins in front of very difficult home crowds, with the predictions usually being against them speak the truth. Olympiacos is (along the champions, CSKA) the team on which, if one was forced and with many things on the line, anyone would bet to survive from an away match at the top level. This shows readiness to play really great matches and manage special circumstances. At the same time with their new success, Giannis Sfairopoulos’ Reds sunk deeper George Bartsokas’ ailing Barcelona, who must go through a lot of tests in order to find out their disease. Their treatment is still far away. The coach was trapped on Thursday and lost his sharp eye. I would say that from one point on he was living a nightmare, from which he could not wake up, unable to scream or move his hands and “escape”.
Sfairopoulos has perfect knowledge of his team.
This is one of the major advantages of the long-term collaboration between the coach and the core players, and being able to go deep in a certain game plan. It is obvious that coach Sfairopoulos has perfect knowledge of his roster. He knows how to use it. That is why it’s not easy to strike out when preparing a game (his execution and coaching is another thing altogether, although the Reds have been excellent in these areas too this year). He know that without Spanoulis (and his other playmaker, Hackett) the creative ability of his team at half court was limited.
He also knew (this proved to be the key) that he would not be facing an offence that would drive him to the limits and lower his times in the defensive rotations. He doesn’t have an offense that moves the ball quickly from one side to another, works on plays on the weak side or adjusts by activating flare screens for their scorers depending on what the defense allows. The Catalan offense was much more straight up, thus making it easy to read by a defense that has the qualities and the dynamics such as the one of Olympiacos. To sum up, Giannis Sfairopoulos knew that he could control the match with his defense and aim to take the game to details, where (in the final minutes) his great knowledge of his roster and his players’ experience in managing marginal situations as a team, would probably give him the advantage over their opponent.
So it happened. Olympiacos used his length against the main pair of Rice-Tomic (the core of the opponent’s offense) with Papanikolaou (I am not so sure if this can work again against Rice)-Milutinov (unlike the two American centers, maybe due to his former experience, he would not allow the five centimetres in the final push in the post ups of the Croatian player). They activated their alternative sources of creation, by giving the ball to Printezis in the post and Lojeski, so he can run the pick-n-roll (Papanikolaou’s two three-pointers were essential and changed the defensive behaviour of the home team). Hackett would give him the chance in 2-3 set to take the ball “deep” in the opponent’s defense with the ball handler and use the Italian’s size and ability to keep his opponent on his back. Now, with Waters, they must adjust and look for midrange. Also, the way the Greek team’s coach addresses possession-by-possession the final minutes of the game and tries to have the best players on court, indicates the effort of the bench, when the “blaugrana” were looking for the combination to the vault.
Olympiacos is having difficulties against teams with efficient offense. Mainly against teams that work on the strong and weak side at the same time, and base their productions on an automated mechanism, which gives them extra uncontested shots and weak side fast breaks, on which they have worked in finishing with an extra player. CSKA and Brose posed great problems for the Reds’ defense. It is no coincidence that Olympiacos have lost from all top 4 teams of the eFG% and True Shooting % table, even if their structure in offense is different. CSKA, Brose, Real Madrid, Maccabi Tel Aviv…
Barcelona, could not throw Printezis off his game by not allowing him to connect with the basket (even though his percentages were not the best); this put more pressure to the home team’s defense in the end. I was expecting the Catalonians to make the Greek PF work more to get the ball by making the entry pass to him on the side more difficult (either with active 3/4 or 4/4). Coach Bartsokas would send help to Printezis’ turn step towards the basket and was successful in all the times he actively did that, when the player was forced to pass immediately.
Let’s see how our friend, Piti Hurtado, approached it:
Barcelona “collapses” together with Rice…
For quite some time now, we have pointed out that Barcelona’s main problem is their weakness to build a functional offense on which they will properly integrate and the right amount the abilities of their agile-in this area-players. In a previous post we had said that this is the main concern of the Catalan supporters, who have been used to another kind of offense until now. What most people don’t understand is that building this kind of offense is very complicated. George Bartsokas is not that kind of coach. He is not of this school of thought, he does not have this kind of reference letters in his CV. I, personally, think extremely high of him. His is probably the best recruiter in Europe, he evaluates the market very well, he knows how to build a good defense. However, his offensive direction is different. What he has come across in Barcelona is different to the less complicated situation at Krasnodar. He went through the door of “Palau Blaugrana” by making a plan of his offensive philosophy (in connection with the roster he was going to bring together) on the same motto: “Players who can pass and shoot”. However, the players that were already there were already a complicated core for his philosophy. Another important factor is that the coach is used to draw production through the way his team defends. Based on the players he would find there, this was also unfamiliar. This is why he paid great value for Khimki’s leading guard duo, Rice-Koponen, and invested in their talent and their higher artistic instinct.
Barcelona’s offense depends on Rice and it is connected to their weakness to make a jigsaw puzzle that contains pieces of the abilities of all their talented players. A functional context within which everyone would play their part. It is also connected to their inability to produce through their defense (even though they have become more aggressive-which is new for their organisation-and more physical by “putting their hand on the opponent”). The Catalans force situations through Rice and try to walk (or forcibly open up) a path that is not visible. The American is a great guard. He has nothing to prove and belongs to the elite. After all, he has gone all the way to the title and total recognition. He would be the perfect leader for a well-trained team with strong bodies and the ability to run the court well. However, things are different in Barcelona and the coach’s expectation that the player would take over and drag both his teammates and his opponents in the games in which the team offense is one-sided makes Rice himself look even worse. Nobody understood “why him” in the last possession against Olympiacos. Nobody understood, coach, why two of you most clutch players (Doelman and Navarro) were left on the bench, whereas Oleson (who had not scored a single point) was on the court. Most of all, no one understood why the ball did not go to the only player that could have scored at that point (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdf6uX0p-wQ) Coponen.
The moment Rice goes for the basket and puts his head down, without looking for the weak side, where his Finnish teammate was, Barcelona left their final breath. Maybe, coach, you need to decompress your American star a little. You have another leading guard. Try him in your first unit. Give him more responsibilities.
The way things went, this was a great win for Panathinaikos in a thriller at OAKA. The Greek team was facing great problems in the second half, but in the end they showed (once more in a home game) the required intangibles that pushed them to a positive result. This is a win that keeps Panathinaikos within reach of the first four places. The “clover” is like a sniper in times of war and have their finger on the trigger on their eye on the lens. A shot would equal an away win against a direct competitor. Just like Fener, in the upcoming match. Their win against Anadolu provides them with an advantage for the shot. However, Xavi Pascual must make many corrective moves (he pointed out the transitional period they are in). If Anadolu were a bit more cynical (mainly on the players they chose to attack the Greens defense) and if James hadn’t been so focused and hadn’t isolated the tension of the moment from his mind and made all three free throws that sent the match to overtime
Change it coach…
Panathinaikos have recently added a new player (Gentile) and, as expected, are looking at how he can help the Green units, in connection to how his abilities will show in the team performance. Pascual knows better than anyone that this player must be productive (great first period, I want to see him play more passively) so he can find his role and be useful to the team rotation. He must also connect his abilities to his teammates’ game. This is where it gets more complicated. I think that lineups (which the coach supports) that include the Italian player next to either Gabriel or Fotsis are toxic for the Greens performance on defense and in general in their effort to be consistent and have flow in their game. This gets even more complicated when Bourousis in on the court. In the match against Anadolu, we saw the Catalan coach try different things, when it was obvious that the taller the team got (this was his direction) the team was less efficient. These lineups need to be sorted. The Turks made their comeback at the end of the third period, when the Greek team had Gentile+Gabriel/Fotsis on the court and the Turkish team were playing Honeycutt+Brown/Thomas. Gist’s absence has reduced the agility in regard to the positions of the big guys and the slow feet are more. The minimum that should not happen is to not play together. Just that…
You are your best player’s mirror
XAVI PASCUAL PIC MISSING
This was the second bad game for Nick Calathes and Panathinaikos was faced with several problems in their offensive operation. Overdribbling that would strengthen Anadolu’s offense, problems in the entry pass, frequent failure to see the pass that would unlock the defense and create a domino effect for a good shot. The fact that Feldein was “off” early in the match was an obstacle that prevented the Greens from creating situations more easily in their offense. The player seemed mentally not ready and Xavi Pascual was forced to use Rivers more in his backcourt. The American G/F run the middle pick & roll with his coach betting on his ability to go all the way. Within that context we saw plays with Fotsis as the main screener (so KC could finish on the shortest possible “length” down low) and Bourousis staying at the three-point line, but on the other hand-with either Rivers or James as the ballhandler- about 75% of cases the same backcourt player would finish, while the defense would be able to concentrate on the main lane and the weak side would be cut out of the green offense.
GIANNIS BOUROUSSIS PIC MISSING
Pascual tried to find solutions by cutting Nick Calathes out of the home team’s game, but the team is not yet ready for this. I don’t know if they would be ready for this soon. Just take a quick look at the team’s AST/TO ratio in games where Calathes did not play up to his usual standards. 9/15 at the Peace and Friendship stadium, 16/15 at OAKA against Anadolu. In both cases the team barely made it to 70 points. Without the international PG’s game, Panathinaikos is forced to make things work through 1 on 1 offense and the open court.
He is just teaching…
KC Rivers was once more the man who led and finally stepped up and cleared things up for Panathinaikos. It is obvious that he is in great form. After the 23 points (8/12 FG) against Olympiacos the Clemson graduate recorded 23 again with 9/16 FG and 3 assists. Rivers is also the player that gives off security under pressure, as he is very efficient in situations in which the team desperately needs to score. The 30-year-old player’s most important asset, apart from his self-esteem and confidence, is the fact that even in a bad night he can come back. It is possible to go on court and be decisive in a match by scoring a hard shot when he has had 0/6 up to that point. What concerns me about him is that the team is asking him to do more than he is used to do at the highest level in all these years. At OAKA Rivers had the ball in his hands more. He is asked to play PnR, to play 1 on 1 and spend less time on his favourite weak side, where he would be if the team had an extra playmaker in the backcourt. When you see the excellent KC Rivers play more on his abilities and his 3&D nature, the Greens offense will have made a step towards the right direction…
P.S. Barcelona have they eye on Murcia’s Faverani for the “5” position and the player is putting on the pressure on his team to let him move to Barcelona. This move smells like De la Fuente. Not Bartzokas…
P.S.1: Yes, if the coach was able to, he would have brought Lojeski-Dunston ASAP. That’s a big “if”…
P.S3: Last year, Omic was one of the few big guys that could really stand up to Bourousis. He had a great season at Reneses’ Gran Canaria. I, personally, was in favour of Perasovic’s choice (he was extremely happy and optimistic), and I believed that this collaboration could work. As it turns out, for now I was wrong. Anadolu is sending the Slovenian on loan (he has a two-year contract) to Malaga and are taking a look at Jack Cooley(Notre Dame product, last year at Unicaja, good season at Ludwigsburg this year, he has experience from TBL with Trabzonspor) as a banger, like Darko Planinic in Vitoria last season. And, yes, he has the same barber with Harangody.
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