By Jim Conway on 5th May 2017
We are merely recording history; Olympiacos is making it. Hoopfellas on the cohesive tissue of the Reds and their return to the Euroleague F4..
As expected after winning game four of the series, Olympiacos managed to bend the resistance of Anadolu, who fought well, in a game five that was clearly determined on a victory know-how level and will travel to Istanbul to claim the great Euroleague trophy. A great achievement nevertheless, with the taste running down the palate being connected to the distillation of coherence and continuity that characterize this great team. Of course nothing stops here. Olympiacos have found themselves exactly where they want to be every year..
There is no doubt that the four best teams of this season will be in the F4 of Istanbul. The semi-final match up constitutes nothing less than a basketball wet dream. Who (tell me who..) wouldn’t want to watch for one more time (probably for the last time in case Teodosic, the main protagonist of the Russian “curse” until recently, leaves for the USA) the current champions, CSKA, struggling with their personal demons against the steely underdog called Olympiacos? Or Obradovic against the Madrid “symphony”? These particular teams stood out from the beginning and, even in a bad night, gave the impression of a “lobby” that wouldn’t be easy to break on the road to Istanbul, even when the various issues left Fener out of the first four positions in the regular season. But we will discuss this extensively when the time is right..
Before moving on to the Faliro Game 5, let’s have a brief but thorough look at certain stats of the 8 gladiators’ Playoffs..
Pace Pts/G Off Rat Opp Pts/G Def Rat
Baskonia 77,3 86,7 112,3 90,7 117,5
Darussafaka 69,3 79,5 115,0 85,0 122,8
Real Madrid 69,3 85,0 122,8 79,5 115,0
CSKA 77,3 90,7 117,5 86,7 112,3
Olympiakos 69,4 75,8 108,8 69,8 100,4
Panathinaikos 64,8 64,7 100,1 76,7 118,5
Anadolu Efes 69,4 69,8 100,4 75,8 100,8
Fenerbahce 64,8 76,7 118,5 64,7 100,1
Average 70,2 78,6 111,9 78,6 111,9
Offensive/Defensive Rebound Percentage
Vasilis Spanoulis has built his personal myth in this kind of matches and the series against Anadolu was a good reminder of the gravity this athlete has with his one of a kind ability to freeze hell by being effective under pressure.
In this year’s playoffs, the 35-year-old Spanoulis faced (and eventually manipulated in his own unique way) a well-equipped factory of muscles and athletic attributes that lacked, however, communication and fundamental team defense, which he read better that everyone else and struck, twisting the knife in the Turks’ wound. The way he synchronizes his movement in PnR by weighing Dunston’s “Show” and then releases on the American’s first step back for the “recover” by passing the ball to the big man of his team is unique. In reality, you only have a few tenths of a second to get the ball off your hands in order to fully take advantage of the weakness such a body has agility-wise (which means a good pass in the best possible time and we all know what this usually means at this level). It is as if capturing a falling star in the sky at night… Spanoulis is so comfortable in these 5-6 tenths of a second that this automated/flawlessly synchronized cooperation looks like a walk in the park to him. Just notice how much easier it is for Olympiacos to get to the opponent’s basket (a team without a slasher and alternative sources of creation) with Spanoulis on the court. How easy –and in different ways- he gets the ball in the paint and scores striking in the heart of the opponent’s defense. In view of the final battle in Istanbul, Spanoulis sent the best of messages: “Today there are maybe (maybe…) a few players that are better than me in Europe. But there is no one better than me to lead my team…” I think (and this is just my personal feeling) that this is what he had in mind every moment of this series..
In Game 5 the presence of Papapetrou-Birch was proven the key for the Greek team in both sides of the court. They were initially the “tools” for Olympiacos to match up the physical attitude of the Turks who tried to take the lead by capitalizing on the characteristic dynamic of their physical/athletic package. Without Matt Lojeski’s safety net (in my opinion, his absence was very important in the series) and with Green contributing on the one hand but lacking the “venom” required for a high-level player in this series on the other hand, Papapetrou had to step up in the “mother of all battles” by offering those 2 long-distance shots to cut the Gordian knot. Shots that may seem easy under the circumstance (free look, home court, momentum), however, they are pretty challenging in reality because as easy as it may be to score and fire up the fans, it is equally easy to freeze them if you miss. Papapetrou has what’s required for these shots. Looking at the new season, where he may be a great weapon for Olympiacos, he simply has to work with the ball in his hands lifting his head a little bit higher and he will discover a whole new world regarding the direction of his offensive repertoire (even if Sfairopoulos considers– rightly so at the moment- that Papanikolaou has more guard qualities). If developed, these two attributes may give this particular player a significant upgrade in his behavior towards close out offense, which is traditionally an important factor in the Reds’ production.
Khem Birch made his best appearance in the series (9 PTS με 4/5 FG-11 REB) and was the catalyst in enabling Olympiacos to hamper their opponents’ aggression, especially in a game where Anadolu built their self-confidence from the fact that weapons, which were entirely neutralized up until then (scorers such as Paul and Thomas, their three-pointer average in total, Heurtel’s ability to run with the ball in the middle lane and penetrate or create the ground for immediate execution in transition offense), finally fired. The Canadian put pressure in the Turks’ defense with his ability to attack loose balls in waves and did an excellent job (as a link of the entire chain of defense, not by himself) against the opponent’s “barometer”, Bryant Dunston. These five matches clearly proved that without Dunston’s aggressive nature in the paint, Anadolu’s chances of winning were significantly reduced. A look at his performance will convince you…
Good, I expected more…
Perasovic did well in the series, presenting a highly competitive ensemble with “comeback” abilities (important in the Playoffs), however, to be honest, I expected a better performance from him, especially after passing the psychological reef of the game 3. Although he put pressure on his players (rightfully so) by pushing them close to their limits, he ran out of ideas and, in my opinion, didn’t gamble as much as the situation called for in turning points for Anadolu (that is, when the two opponents were… dueling, dragging themselves on the floor and fighting to take the upper hand of the match) in the last two games rendering his team more predictable. I didn’t see the zone (ok, maybe it was what the opponent expected but implementation is a different thing and 1-2 possessions are gold) with Honeycutt high and Granger at the back line, which could had been a useful thought when your “5”s are worn out..
Also, nobody understood the joke (because this is the only way to interpret it) with Heurtel on Spanoulis that he tried during the series.. On the contrary, he was expected to bring Honeycutt up there earlier but I suppose that he wanted him in the back line (maybe also with the possibility to float inside) for obvious reasons. In Olympiacos’ ball screen offense for Spanoulis he kept playing strictly one on one in the defense without any help (not even a simple Show when Anadolu’s guard is already… one screen behind and the captain got the ball in his good area), a decision for which he was punished. Anadolu made a step forward this year (although in the recent past with Duda, relying mainly on middle PnR with Heurtel-Christic they had cornered Real) showing very positive elements in the second half of the season when they improved their defense and their communication in both sides of the court. The purpose is to build upon this season in order to have continuity in their attempt to knock on the door of the elite and, eventually, be part of it.
The harmony of the human body
The Sicilian “thinker” (well, he is..) and sport academic Ettore Messina had emphasized that:
The problems start when the “weakest” (skill-wise) players want to do what the best/“strongest” players do and when the “strong” ones don’t respect their team’s necessity to have the “weak” ones do what they know best.. –
The modern era Olympiacos is a hierarchy team. They have the blessing of the one “body”, of the harmony of the sensory organs functioning in order to stay clear from the “toxic” situations described by Messina. They have their own in-game orientation and (when a sense is off the rest of them work overtime to compensate for it, exactly what happens in the human body) and, above all, the reflexes to feel the way things develop and adapt to the way they determine is the best. We saw the way the Reds perceived the problem of last year’s team on the productivity level (and peripheral execution) by changing their backcourt nature with a sniper instead of players with size and athleticism, who gave the team a tougher defensive shell, but, at the same time and the limited peripheral execution aside, they blurred the lines of perception and acceptance of the role of each player in the team.
Pat Riley (maybe the biggest basketball personality to ever come out from the huge pool called American professional basketball) once said that this is one of the biggest problems that he had faced as a coach in Los Angeles, referring to the fact that as time passes, every player will subconsciously demand an upgraded role, responsibilities and money, that is “diseases” able to turn a team with well-appointed roles until then upside down.
The “political regime” within Olympiacos shapes the current picture..
However, the environment of Olympiacos’s “constitutional monarchy” (which, under certain circumstances reaches its totalitarian character when the team is threatened and under siege) knows how to absorb and manage such situations precisely because this structure is able to “drown” any thought of such “revolutions” threatening the social (and hence the in-game) tissue of the team. In the land of the Reds, Spanoulis is something like a prophet. The Messiah. Next to him to the right (the reformer, as the man who evolved the regime of Absolute Monarchy into a Constitutional one) is Printezis (successor of the “church”, i.e. of the ideals that the Reds’ philosophy preaches). Around them, an order of apostles, ready to sacrifice their “life” (within the four lines of the court) to protect the sacred duo. This is the roster of the Reds. This is the exact reason that every player that signs with with Olympiacos knows a priori what he is bound to come across and how he is expected to behave.
There’s one last thing I’m not tired of emphasizing. The most important credit that Olympiacos has earned in the recent years is the title of a team developing new players while the team doesn’t retreat from the European “elite”. This is a very hard combination, believe me...
Within their limits…
Olympiacos did not surpass their limits. Let’s be realistic and stay clear from the “grand speeches” that move the average fan in our country. The F4 qualification in Istanbul was the natural development for a team that showed its strength from the beginning of the season, stepping into the top positions of the ranking and stayed there with no significant problems up to the end of the regular season. It was, therefore, the anticipated, natural development (in no way easy, yet anticipated) that the Reds would be qualified to the F4 where the title will be decided. Even with the problems that the Greek team had to face, the know-how that characterizes them in such conditions combined with the home court advantage factor kept them in the driver’s seat. On the contrary, Anadolu’s qualification would have been an upset; against a much more experienced team and a tough Greek home court that, in the playoffs, is a key factor or a rather insurmountable hurdle for teams lacking winning culture at this particular time period. Therefore, no breakthrough was made… And there is no need to use such terms to showcase a truly great success. Because consistency and continuity (even when your work has managed to wrap them up in the garment of the “anticipated”, always with regard to achieving certain goals) is nevertheless a great achievement. The qualification of the Reds in yet another F4 is a great success and the biggest proof of the umbilical cord connecting the team to the European basketball “elite”. On the 19th of May Olympiacos will have a huge chance to write history the way they want. They are part of it and they can do it. They don’t live historic moments, they make them. Like I said last week:
“They 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…..”
Olympiacos is the only team with the ability to grin widely when faced with the guillotine. This shall be Olympiacos’ strongest weapon when crossing the Bosporus..
Aris is smiling..
We finally saw the Aris fans smiling at Thessaloniki, as they finished the series against PAOK in only two games. Coach Priftis drove away (…) the ghost of coach Markopoulos that looked like it was trying to haunt him in these matchups and for the first time this year (after the Greek Cup semifinal to be specific, maybe even after the first match against Strasbourg) Aris is allowed to smile in a season where the team aimed higher, but didn’t meet their expectations. However, Aris have a decent Greek core of players (their main objective, of which we talked about last summer) and in view of the next season, they should (by any means possible) re-determine their in-game objectives and present something better (I am positive that they can). PAOK reached their limits in a series where Markopoulos’ team was reinforced and had quality depth in order to take the series where they wanted and win. PAOK choked on their low percentage in the second game (4/27 three-pointers, ok , they had won with 0/20 – after all, this is Soulis Markopoulos – but it’s not easy to do it again…); at the same time Cummings as well as Dragisevic’s great first half riled them up with their ability to connect with the basket and push Aris to a better-than-usual productive night. The duo of Xanthopoulos-Jankovic played an important role in the two games. Coach Priftis’ team will battle against Olympiacos in the semifinals (they gave us a great matchup against Panathinaikos last year), but they know that in view of the new season they have to change things around (without necessarily making grand moves, the Greek core of players is there, after all).
P.S: «The game isn’t over until the clock says zero» (Paul Pierce)
I’m wondering, is there any better title for his autobiography?
I adore Pierce (one of my favorite players in the modern NBA era) and some day he will make a Paul Pierce special. Just as I had told you, he is the only player to transfigure the elf that lives in the center of the Garden to such a degree..
P.S1: My friend Mike, the copyright of this particular simile belongs to this page that was the first to name years ago the administrative leader of the Greens “Jack Sparrow” (Afro is my witness)..
P.S2: The semi-final series between Panathinaikos and AEK will be interesting for the simple reason that many persons (from both sides) will attract more attention than they usually do…
Translated by: George-Orestis Zoumpos