Playing basketball from the pages of a James Joyce novel, Panathinaikos took the great road win they needed in Vitoria despite the grotesque spectacle of the last minutes and now look the home advantage straight in the eye while the situation has been dramatically reversed. Great road win from Olympiacos in Belgrade, a clean loss by Real in SEF, concerns for their flagging offense and Lojeski’s injury. Hoopfellas on this week’s powerful images..
A filling week if anything (with a March Madness topping). The Greek teams “strike” right on time while the situation is changing. Panathinaikos’ chances for home court advantage are good although out of their hands. What they showed defensively in Vitoria for a good period of time is what we have been envisioning in here for this team. Fener will give everything they have in Madrid, with major absences, against a team, on whom it is difficult at this point (depth, fresh legs) to run and catch up with. There is, therefore, a basis for this thought.. Olympiacos, on the other hand, locked the third position with Printezis’ “Chuck No2” in Belgrade..
..but lost both Lojeski and the win from Real in Faliro showing in both games the problems they have in offense. A great battle is also raging for the last ticket where Darussafaka (14-14) will host Crvena Zevzda (15-13) in Istanbul for the last round. Frenzy..
Shut your eyes and see…
I totally understand that Panathinaikos’s fans may be excited with Singleton’s excellent performance (once again super), Gist and Calathes’s gradual “comeback”; however, the main reason to have wings in the heart on Thursday night should be the presence of the one coach on the bench who influenced and finally turned the most pivotal road game of the season into a personal matter. It’s been a long time… Xavi Pascual prepared, risked, took the wheel in his own hands and “delivered” a great win that reverses the situation regarding home advantage. It is important to know that in every situation such as this one your leader is at the end of the bench. Don’t forget (basically, keep it in your mind for good in every game day –at least) that:
“We are at this time of the season where the most important muscle is the mind..”
The flagship of Junk Defense: “Box and 1” & “Diamond and 1”
Xavi Pascual prepared one of the so-called Junk Defenses (they contain a combination of Man to man and zone principles) to intercept Baskonia’s offense, preventing them from finding rhythm and their expected flow that pushes them to automated plays, without thought, touching the basketball that Sito Alonso wants to show. In essence, the main goal behind this decision by Panathinaikos’s coach was to give the opponent something they are not familiar with, forcing them to change their habits and readjust their offense. At first glance it seems simple and it is even more pleasing to the ear, but it requires great attention to detail to set it up, mainly in the part where you translate your players’ characteristics in this context.
What was it then that we saw in Buesa Arena on Thursday night that was the catalyst to tilt the balance in Panathinaikos’s favor?
A defense able to “adjust” every time by changing its form, an ability that made it hard to read, slowing down the familiarization of the offense. The basis of the Greens’ units and the pillars to build this structure are the magic words mobility and intensity.
Pascual chose “Box and 1” (with Larkin-Shengelia in the court) and “Diamond and 1” (mainly without them but with the very capable shooter Beaubois in Sito’s line-up).
-He built “Box and 1” by giving the “Chaser” role to Calathes (deny to Larkin with the exceptions of when he went to the corners where Calathes handed him over to the respective low box bog man, Gist or Singleton), trusting that he had two very good rebounders in the back line of the “box”, with strong legs, who had the responsibility to defend the ball when it was openly in their corner. Both Pascual’s Low Box players played (initial position) with one foot stepping inside the paint. The main mission of the other two players of the “box” (High Box Defenders, namely Nichols-Feldein) is to stop the ball from entering the High Post and, at the same time, to have sufficient speed since sprinting is required to maintain a pass around –behind the arc- character during the opponent’s offense.
-With Larkin holding the ball in the middle lane all 4 Box Defenders took their initial position inside the Box Format. In this case, this formation ensured great Help Defense, an important weapon against a very insightful and quick guard who easily slips through any possible hole.
-With the ball on the side, the Strong side big man of the Greens played 4/4 with Sito’s post big guy, a position that at the same time ensured that he could immediately reach (if needed) the area of his responsibility if the ball got there.
-This defense helped Panathinaikos protect their basket and ensure the rebound advantage (having three “box” players to the claim it every time one of them was on player that executed) even though its match up nature (the Greens followed the cuts of the Βasques to their rim and in certain Pick & Roll situations played one on one defense) led to rotations which in turn led to offensive rebounds for the hosts. Of course on the other side, this Match up nature was beneficial when Sito put Larkin in the corner in this Box-1 in order to create a 2-3 formation to play offense as if against a regular zone. This never happened…
-Against the Baskonia formation that threatened less aggressively the basket of the Greek team (Diop-Tillie instead of Voigtmann-Shengelia) inside the paint, but had firepower outside the arc (Beaubois), Xavi Pascual activate a “Diamond and 1” defense with Feldein on Hanga at the wing and the other 4 lining up in the diamond-shaped formation, which helped the “clover” to reach Alonso’s snipers at the sides faster. I expected to see a type of Clock Offense response (we have talked about it in Hoopfellas during the season) from Sito but this didn’t happen either..
The hosts finished the game with a very interesting Scoring +/- index.. Larkin -15 (True Shooting Ratio 22.6 in the match, indicating how cut off he was from Baskonia’s offense), Shengelia and Beaubois -9 each. On the other hand, when the (quite off the mark) Laprovittola was in the court they scored 14 points more than the Greek team. As for Panathinaikos... Nichols had +22, Singleton and Feldein +18, Calathes +16, Gist +15 but Bourousis -11 and James -14. The explanation is simple. When Bourousis-James were on the court, Panathinaikos couldn’t activate the same tactics in the team defense and it was prohibitive to show a respective offensive character which let the opponents to find plays through one on one and weak side cuts.
It’s true that mistakes were made. The performance of the fourth period was something that troubled me. It goes without saying that, at this level, you expect that a team as good as Baskonia will wake up and play somewhat better. My concern lies in the way this comeback of the Basques was materialized. Coach, in my humble opinion, when you enter the fourth period with +17 in Buesa, what you expect is 10 minutes to be like a “cage match”. The opponent will wrap their hand tightly around you. They will try to grab your neck from the entry pass. No question about what will happen when you start dribbling or when you attack their basket. Feldein is the less suitable Panathinaikos guard in such an environment. You rejected Pappas in this particular case because you wanted (it has been highlighted here as well) a shooter next to Calathes-James. You were right to go to the three ball handler formation. However, the Dominican is not the type of guard known for his high degree of resilience and effective shock absorption. I also think that Bourousis should have been withdrawn earlier.. These aside, Panathinaikos (19 turnovers are too many, but it is the exception rather than the rule in the case of the Greens) found solutions with James’s one on one game that is now second nature for the team in such marginal situations. Let’s not fool ourselves, one on one and outside execution are keys in the form current European basketball has taken. Last year Panathinaikos didn’t have such plays in similar marginal situations as effectively. Measure is everything, especially in the “valuing possessions” basketball of Xavi Pascual..
After a certain point it was obvious that Olympiacos didn’t have the stamina to win this particular match against this particular opponent. This is a main trait of this year’s structure of Olympiacos. With Printezis absent, Spanoulis looking to come back after his injuries and Lojeski fighting tendinitis, Olympiacos is not as well-shaped to run with Real in half and open court. Even Laso’s Big lineups with Taylor in “2” Real was still just quicker. This particular factor weighed in on Friday night. Olympiacos wasn’t able to give their fans a performance similar to the one of Panathinaikos against Madrid simply due to lack of strength. This became cynically obvious after the 25th minute..
Randolph was simply unmatched. Without Printezis and with Birch (and his ability to also help in defense away from the rim) “out”, the face/post up game proved an insurmountable obstacle for Olympiacos’ defense. Sfairopoulos had prepared Papapetrou for him, but even when he had a hand in his face he managed to do damage. At the time he was also important on defense (especially in formations where Laso played Hunter next to him). Take a look at Real’s numbers with and without Radolph in the court (overbasket.com)..
“Destroyed” from the middle lane..
The defensive castle of Olympiacos fell and it did so convincingly when the opponent hit them on one of this year’s strong points. The middle lane. The Reds are a team that protects the central imaginary path of their defense very effectively, especially in cases where the pair Birch-Papanikolaou is on the court (able to lock almost everyone in the perimeter as well as in low post). On Friday night Llull spread panic right there, punishing every mistake of the Reds. I’m talking about the ten centimetres that Birch allowed him so he could score the pull up, Spanoulis’s moments of inaction at the wing or the overhelping of the baseline line forward at the wing (up until the big man’s recover in Real’s central PnR), which produced free shoots from the corners. I think it was the first match of the season that the Red-Whites seemed so mortal when defending the middle lane.
Hopes for “Milu”..
Like we said in a previous post, the pair Milutinov-Papanikolaou has been recently giving a healthy aura to Olympiakos, who has suffered from injuries. The 22-year-old Serbian center is slowly moving in the direction cut out by R.C. Buford and Olympiacos’s heads for his case. Against Madrid and in top competition we saw some of the strong points of his package that weren’t unraveled in Belgrade.
Papanikolaou was excellent in Belgrade. His non-stop motor style was everywhere on court, in many instances pulling the entire team with him. He has built his self-confidence and evidently feels more secure in his finishing. The Reds gave him more time with the ball against Crvezna Zevzda and with Logeski off, which I believe Olympiacos would better limit in the near future, as the player tries to make a virtue of necessity and live up to it, but at this time of the season and with the level of competition skyrocketing I’m not sure he can help..
Lojeski & offensive efficiency
Olympiacos looks a bit “stiff” on offense and this week’s tests, combined with the injuries, can be used to draw some conclusions. It is true that without Printezis on the court Olympiacos’s production capacity may be considered limited and this is cause for concern at a time when the team will need to regain their offensive “stinging” to cross the road to Bosphorus. It is clear that this is also associated with Spanoulis’ condition. Just remember the way Olympiacos used to deploy in open (as well as in half) court at the beginning of the season when the fresh captain masterfully lead the team. The physical/athletic package of this team is directly linked to its production capacity. Olympiacos has limited creative resources (especially with Spanoulis far from 100%), lack of specialized players to play in the middle lane (Waters doesn’t have the first step and Green the resilience) to tear through (recently this happens almost exclusively through close out offense), and with Lojeski out for a month they are left significantly behind in outside shooting. Of course, after the grave concern of loosing him for several months, the one-month absence for Lojeski was like music to the ears of the Reds, however, Olympiacos cannot count on when exactly the American G/F will be able to play in a demanding playoff series and that’s what matters. However, it is my estimation (of course we must wait to see the match up) that Lojeski’s absence will cause trouble to Olympiacos. Now the Reds will have no other choice but to turn to the offensive direction they have mapped out since summer. Hoping that Printezis and Spanoulis will be at 100% just at the right time. Right or wrong, we will soon know..
P.S.: I hear that Gerald Robinson is Aris’ first choice. After that I can officially declare the page’s list mainstream, as a friend commented..
P.S.1: Great match today at OAKA in every respect. Timing was good for AEK after Panathinaikos’ success in Vitoria; however, since the hosts did not “seal” the match in the first overtime, it kind of made sense that they would fall in the second. The Greek league needs such battles..
P.S.2: When a young player has the opportunity to test his abilities and improve his game in the Euroleague competition it a “blessing” and a privilege. Free lesson… We can see it now, towards the end of the season, where several teams are trying players to whom they are counting on for the next season. Respect to whoever seizes this opportunity..
Translated by: George–Orestis Zoumpos
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