Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one..

By  Jim Conway 30 April 2017



Olympiacos and Vasilis Spanoulis are back instantiating Bob Knight’s quote in the series with Anadolu. The two teams are now in the game five roulette..  Disappointment on all levels for Panathinaikos.  The great setback from the front office’s decision and its implications. After acrazyweek, Hoopfellas on everyone and everything..




Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one, gentlemen.. The supremacy of this mental toughness and discipline was written everywhere in invisible script in every action we witnessed during the second week of this year’s Playoffs. So many images, events, stimulations.. Olympiacos kept the flag flying, confirming the predictions that wanted then to win one match in Istanbul, Real struggled but returned once again to the F4’s “Land of Promise” (4 participations in the last 5 years, 3 finals, one championship) whereas Panathinaikos experienced the end of the road against a better prepared opponent. Of course, the next day they also experienced something else as well..

Let’s start..


Anadolu vs Olympiacos mentality..

The connoisseurs may read the title above (and based on the history of the two clubs in the close matches of the last years) as a joke, but truth is that this year a great effort is being made in Anadolu to enable the team to exceed the expectations (Euroleague F4, winning the TBL) and to slowly start creating what cannot be bought and is desperately lacking all these years. Winning culture.. Olympiacos may be a great example for the Turks, starting mainly from the way the in-game part is approached by the front office (this is very important with regard to what’s happening in the Anadolu squad recently). The label of mentality of the two teams carries diametrically opposite messages, which is also known all around Europe. Olympiacos simply delivered a reminder..

The way that the Reds –with Spanoulis as their leader- managed the tension that the hosts tried to bring into the match from the first second (not really masterfully, in my opinion..) not only failed to bring the veteran fighter to his knees but, on the contrary, when he found himself on the ropes, it was him that charged into the Turks who were unable to cope with it. They have never done so after all.. I think that this was coach Sfairopoulos’ main goal before as well as after the game started when his team was in danger of losing touch with the score completely. This is what we wrote in the halftime of the game while chatting in our webpage. If you manage to apply pressure, they will fall..

It’s in their DNA. At some point they may be able to change it.. It will be difficult against this disciplined and highly-coherent Olympiacos team. It was difficult from the get-go.. The Reds have neither the talent and, possibly, nor the competing quality of the teams that have already been qualified for the F4. The game of basketball is evolving and demands productive consistency setting the bar higher; Olympiacos’ offensive nature is really an innocent baby who depends on their parents’ hands (the 2-3 extremely skilled players of the Greek team) in order to walk. However, they have other traits that have given them long ago the right to be established in the “elite”. Unprecedented level of homogeneity and coherence both inside and outside of the court, athletes with similar basketball culture, competitive direction, hierarchy and roles, intagibles over.. the rooftop that have turned overachieving into daily routine. They remind me of the old, traditionally tough teams of Tom Izzo’s Spartans (coach, if he is your role model, you’re heading in the right direction..). And don’t forget (very important) that the Reds as a club, their presence in the European “elite” aside, have the ability to develop new players..



Olympiacos hasven’t qualified yet. But there’s a good chance that they will..

The turning of the tables in the fourth game and Anadolu’s collapse in a game at home which they seemingly dominated has given the illusion to many that the series is over but this is not true. With Game 5 ahead of us there is no room for the classic Greek triumphalisms, a typical Modern Greek trait and indicative of the general culture that has led this country in this current situation. Nonetheless, Olympiacos (and not the entourage accompanying them) is not and has never been a team of grand speeches. The Reds took the advantage in a series in which, as we said before it started, both opponents had significant chances for a break. But the most important part is that in a period that was crucial for the team on many levels, Olympiacos once again delivered under pressure, taking control of a mentally challenging match away from home, a result that probably reminded to the players themselves the true status of the Reds in European basketball. A few notes regarding tactics..

-Anadolu is shooting very poorly from behind the arc and this is something that must be used by Olympiacos for their formation and defensive orientation in the last game. The Turks have 5/37 three pointers in the last two matches (at home) and 17/78 in total in the series. In the fourth game, against PnR situations from Perasovic’s team, we saw players of the Reds “step on” the paint several times, seeking mainly to secure their defensive middle lane and hinder their opponents’ tendency for offensive rebounds. They didn’t always succeed (in the last two games Dunston has 13 offensive rebounds in total); however, it is important (especially when considering how this series has progressed) to consistently do that in game 5..

The Turks find it particularly hard to score against the Olympiacos defense. It’s obvious.. They have no opportunities for transition execution and also very few uncontested shots in the half court against a team that plays defense for 24’’ and has the length to match up Anadolu. They scored 62 points in the game four, 13 of which came from second chances (18 offensive rebounds, an important weapon to support their offense). Note that they are disappointing when shooting from behind the arc (a key factor to apply pressure on the opponent, especially away from home) which has affected their psychology. Perasovic knows that in order to claim game 5 in Faliro against a way more experienced team like the Greeks (who now also have the momentum in their favor), they must have a very good defensive game with very few turnovers. In my opinion, he is also going to gamble with his opponent’s shooting (mental trap), which may require particular attention from Olympiacos on how to manage. In game four anyway, the failure of the hosts to score from behind the arc directly affected their effectiveness in Post up offense, where the Greek team sent assistance offensively (controlling back screen and cuts from the weak side on the defense’s back) and with more confidence, risking shots after the first rotation.

-Kostas Papanikolaou (+/- 16, the best from any other player between the two opponents) was the player who tipped the balance in favor of Olympiacos, being the catalyst on defence where he excelled on both lines. We havereached a point where physical readiness and good physical condition play an important role. A while ago, the page touched upon the “Stamina” issue for Olympiacos noticing that there might have been a problem there, especially after Lojeski was injured. With Printezis surpassing his physical limits, Papanikolaou’s motor is decisive for Sfairopoulos’ team. The Reds’ coach gave great attention in this part adjusting his plans (of course, without staying clear from risky situations, although the poor night of their opponent helped him) in order to allow Spanoulis-Printezis to rest for the final stretch of the game. It is important that the Reds managed to control the pace and meticulously tip the psychological advantage on their side with their second unit as well as formations with creative weaknesses (overdribling, exclusively one on one game or two player cooperation, poor communication between strong-weak side). A typical example is the image of Efes leading by 13 and at the same time its players constantly complaining at the referees and Granger trying to bring them together one by one..


-Velimir Perasovic relied heavily on his 1-3-1, which had also worked for him in Vitoria last season, relying on his team floor general, Jason Granger. With middle PnR through the 1-3-1, taking advantage of the poor footwork of the Reds big man, the Uruguan player quickly connected with the basket. In the horns offense and horns screen, in 85% of the cases he chose to go right (in order to finish), whereas when he went to the left, he usually looked to dribble deep and keep his options open to see a crack in the defence and end up in the security of the weak side (pass from the baseline). You cannot play him Flat in the PnR, as he will pull up, he is efficient in pulls ups. Olympiacos managed to lower the Uruguan player’s performance when they put Papanikolaou on him; he is the only defender that can body up Granger (Green looks like his 14-year-old son next to him). The Croatian coach continued as usual with Side Picks through Diamond for Heurtel, but he was unlucky to not get any help from (mainly) Brad Paul and D. Thomas. Paul is a very good scorer and the off guard of this team, but he looks like he is nervous and cannot connect with the basket. Paul and Derrick Brown are natural scorers and even though Olympiacos has done an excellent job on them until now, I think they will get more plays in the game 5 roullette.



Come on, Spanoulis…


Did you forget about him…? He is still here. With a “typical Spanoulis performance” in a crucial match, the Reds captain stepped up for his team and was the main sensor in its body. From the very beginning Spanoulis perfectly managed the momentum of their opponents and their fans, he properly read the direction of the defence on him each time and “stung” at the right moment, by being as aggressive as his team needed. After all, he had given a warning in the end of game 3, where he was having a poor (maybe even harmful) night  until the final stretch, but the comeback that almost brought the win in the dying seconds can only be achieved by a handful of players in this continent after such a poor night.

In game 4, coach Sfairopoulos presented Floppy Action for his captain…


… (which Anadolu was initially completely unprepared to deal with) and 1-3-1 Staggered aiming at immediately executing from the right side of the court. Spanoulis was very methodical and waited, he weighed his opponents and adjusted his behaviour against the Pick n Roll defence. At first, his objective against Dunston’s Show and Recover was (on Side Picks) to dribble alongside in order to lock the American Center on him and get the switch, whereas in the second half, he became more aggressive and executed after the dribble as soon as Dunston showed the first signs of diving towards his player. In total, in the 2 on 2 PnR situations coach Perasovic chose, Anadolu’s guard (when his name was not Granger) did not always behave properly in terms of defensive balance, which allows chances for a ballhandler like Spanoulis… Of course, he has to do more things in an offense which misses Hackett’s playmaking abilities and Lojeski’s skillset. This offence also lacks slashing abilities, which is an important reason why their offense looks like it is easily read by their opponent. However, Spanoulis was born to do more things. With the dynamic 4/4 Anadolu defence (in the early post ups in transition as well as in every Olympiacos offence in the half court) to Printezis entering as a “wedge” in the triangles coach Sfairopoulos set up with him and Birch high on the side, Olympiacos’ captain “did more”.


They say that Jordan’s biggest win in his prime in the NBA was not his ability to win titles, but the fact that subconsciously he had imposed the belief in an entire “system” that when he is really “there”, they would lose.

They also say that the character of each team is mirrored in the game of its best player. So, Olympiacos is the only team that can look death in the eye so deep without fear… If the Reds check their ticket to Istanbul on Tuesday night, their chance to make some “noise” again will not be so small. 



Panathinaikos was disappointing on every level.



For the second year in a row Panathinaikos were left outside the Playoffs from Game 3 by an opponent that reached high performance standards in the entire series against them. What followed of course overshadowed the defeat and showed that the problem is translated in continuous underperforming in the crucial stage of the Euroleague Playoffs that has deeper roots. I am one of the people that believe that if the Greens had properly closed Game 1, things may have turned out differently. Fener would have another kind of pressure to deal with in the game 2; this doesn’t mean that it could not have led to a more emphatic 1-1 or that they would not have won the series in the end. Obradovic has done a great job in the small details and his players were more than ready to deal with any new factor they would come up against. On the other hand, Panathinaikos were sloppy on how they approached the series. Coach Pascual, who was the main reason why the Greens “stole” the home court advantage in the finish (I am using the term “stole” as in basketball and performance terms the Greens were more of a top-6 team, behind the top four that stood out), is not able to have the same direct, clear line of communication with his players, like Zoc in Fener. He is only a few months at OAKA. He has not developed the same codes of communication in order for the player to interpret on the court his instructions in the exact way (the details we mentioned above) he wants. The clear difference in the performance of the two teams in the series was a matter of approach (the coach is responsible for that) and execution of details…



For sure, other things were also made clear. After all, the Playoffs are a picture of what the teams may hold on to, what they should leave behind and what new things they should show in the next season. Players have been getting more minutes because they responded well in a new role – “adjustment”. Other players lost their next year contract as they could not live up to the expectations. All these because the mirror is so much clearer when playing under pressure, You can see so many things.


Panathinaikos fought in Game 3, but they have not yet build as a team the resistances to help them survive under such difficult circumstances against this opponent. Make no mistake… The “Clover” could have already been in the F4 if they were lucky enough to have another matchup in this year’s Playoffs and at the same time Olympiacos (which would be possible, if they were up against Fener) could have been thinking about the Greek A1 league post season. However, this does not cancel out the pros and cons of our teams. It does not cancel out reality…


Fener’s step up in the playoffs is simply impressive, as you can see. Their supremacy was clear. The image of last year’s loss in the EL final showed them the way in terms of mentality throughout the season and in this series, it gave them tons of determination, as the “pressure” of  “we must” boosted them, after releasing in the team the feeling of the sacred obligation for discipline of the thought and commitment towards one goa;. This is the proper background that leads to good basketball. Obradovic smelled “blood” in the slow reflexes of the opposing bench, he had the initiative in the series and relied on Bogdanovic by using plays that Fener would run with other players within the season, changing his players’ position each time. For example, the Serbian guard was given the role of the main playmaker and decision maker in Fener’s offence in this play that used to be run by Sloukas for the Turks throughout the entire season.



The direction of the Greens’ offense led them … in the lion’s den against a defence with live sensors and the well-known ability coach Obradovic’s teams have to quickly decode and adjust. Coach Pascual for the beginning of his term at the Panathinaikos bench entrusted in the area that he knows how to run best, the half court. However, this squad has inherent weaknesses in its structure in order to present a really efficient half court offense (this is why he relied on one-on-one offense and low mistake basketball) that would put to the test defences that are ready in the top playoffs level.



How many more choices (at the level of direction and offensive philosophy in general) would the Spanish coach have if he had another PG with playmaking abilities behind Calathes? It is a fact that due to the history of your work, you could have showed something different in this area and limit the dead stretches, the ones where the team choked in the second half of game 1 and between the 22nd and the 28th minute in game 3, when Panathinaikos prevented Fener from scoring with their defence, but were completely unable to connect with the basket.


Let’s see the other side: how does it sound in the closed basketball community when a humble website screams from the second period of game 1 that Bogdanovic must at any cost stay on the left side and you only follow this choice on game 3 (where he was limited– what a miracle – to 3/9 FG and 7 turnovers…)? This remains to be answered…


I think highly of coach Pascual and I believe that we all have something to gain and learn from him, as long as proper time is given both to him and the players among them to develop these codes of communication that can make the difference in situations where details play a major role. Panathinaikos needs to build strong relationships within the team and players with character… This is what he has been missing in the past years. So, let’s move on to the incident that overshadowed the games…


Mindset issue

I think this is the darkest page of the new era of Panathinaikos basketball. It is a typical example of the team being limited, which puts a stop in their supporters’ dreams in the last seasons. The picture created in Europe regarding the incident is much worse than what we have seen in our country. The team’s biggest problem in the Dimitris Giannakopoulos era is closely connected to the absence of “wisdom”, which has prevented the creation of a core that would be the basis of the next years, on which the new Panathinaikos will rely on their way to the top. For now, they are exploring new worlds. The statement that justified the decision for the team’s return from Istanbul by bus reminded me of the Big Brother’s statement in Orwell’s 1984 “the chocolate ration had been increased by 20 grams”… No “penalty” was imposed (just justified) for players that go out at nights (regardless of whether certain players actually do it). If this type of penalty was chosen because certain players are not professional enough, forgive me, but the problem is much deeper.



I fear the man that makes the same mistake twice…


I have told you before that I consider Dimitris Giannakopoulos a smart man. I was not against (nor do I believe that it affected the team) the whole marketing that surrounded the series (This is OAKA, t-shirts etc.). The playoffs are first of all a celebration and this is the best time of the season, as we include this “war spirit” to the wider context of this celebration (as when we have basketball games every day, “battles” at the top level, and such thrills, it can only be a celebration… ) . Two years ago in the OAKA locker rooms (the Spanoulis incident) he reached rock bottom. He understood it (this does not cancel out the size of his mistake under any circumstances) and tried to change his profile afterwards with lots of targeted communication actions. Unfortunately he went back to the same mistake, driven by his impulsive nature and kicked his team back to the bottom of the well.

This year’s Panathinaikos could have capitalised on the work done in the past few months with coach Pascual regarding the development of the team for next season. This would have been a major gain, a step forward towards the right direction. They have found a good coach and a good core of players, which of course may be improved, but can be the basis of the team. This incident was certainly like a bomb in the foundations the team was building this year. It divided people, it rearranged relations that had started building inside the team. It will certainly play a role in the way various professionals see the club in the summer, even though the pool of foreign players is so large that the “Clover” will be able to find players, just like Baskonia did, even though they let Adams almost unpaid and they were publicly criticised for it (believe me, for an American player that has left his country with his main objective being to get as much money as possible it is the same as the bus … incident). Of course, this doesn’t cancel out this outrageous decision. Employees that loved the club’s background and were seriously thinking of committing to it (James, Pascual, as well as Singleton) are certainly not feeling the same as before, and I don’t know if it will be possible to change what they think. The aim of building a strong core of players that will commit to being the basis of the new Panathinaikos looks to be falling apart…



Panathinaikos is neither its players nor its front office. It is its fans and its history. This cannot be justified in nights like this. It is clear that I am not referring to the games… What the Greens administrative leader must build is the industrious mentality he himself is asking from the people that make up his team. He must learn to withstand the “pain”, just like his father did in the dark years of failures until the team came out into the light. This needs patience, self-control in both sorrow and joy and a strong will to let time change both you and your crew. This is not the fastest way, but it will certainly lead you somewhere…





This is what we said about the Real Madrid-Darussafala matchup… The Madrilenos are the team with the strongest offensive firepower in the Euroleague. Their depth and quality at an individual level is unmatched by any team in the competition and even though (as we all know well) these are not the attributes that decided a F4 winner, they were decisive in this series, when at the same time (it will be interesting to follow this more closely) with Carol on the floor they put tremendous pressure on the opposing defence by creating –with the American’s game away from the ball- distractions and space for the rest of the players, a result of the concentration in the defensive cooperation that Darussafaka should have showed for a specific player. Carol has a rare ability in European basketball to score and be extremely consistent in scoring on great defence (this is why I compared him to Igor Rakocevic in our chat in terms of aggressiveness and execution with the defender’s hand on his … nose) with very quick release and uninterrupted mechanism.



Coach Blatt presented a “hungry dog” in this year’s Playoffs. This must be the psychological profile of every team that enters this stage of the season. This is what was written in Darussafaka’s psyche. Through gritty basketball and the sharp elbows of Harangody, Wannamaker (he has perfected his technique of … trampling in offence, I believe coach Itoudis will go after him and change his philosophy in case he loses Milos) walking in the train tracks and Zizic’s no-stop motor of (he was acquired with one eye on this series) made things difficult for Madrid, as they refused to give up even under the most difficult of circumstances. Coach Laso (he used his well known 1-2-2 with Randolf as the catcher, which would end up in 3-2, similar in direction to the one he used to play with Slaughter) had many ready supportive players to change the momentum. Tompkins (47.4% in three pointers this year) gave him a boost in game 4 with Madrid finding themselves on +13 in the minutes he was on the floor. Coach Blatt could not find such players as the series went deeper. He got no help from Anderson and Slaughter (who was back after a serious injury), the key players of Small Ball – “main goal is to close all lanes”- rationale on which the Turks defensive tactics relied in this series. Fair result, quite good series…




P.S.: I had recently told you of the offer (almost 400,000) by Zalgiris for the renewal of Brock Motum’s contract. Maccabi has made a move and they have more money to offer to the Australian forward…


Translated by: George-Orestis Zoumpos


Jim Conway