The four gladiators of Madrid (2015) meet again two years later under the mystic moon of Istanbul, which will light the face of the new king of European basketball. This is where legends are born. Hoopfellas hosts coach Luca Banki and together we analyse the games that we hope to haunt our memories for many years…
It was two years ago, just before the Madrid final four, where Olympiacos, CSKA, Fener and the champion-to-be Real Madrid were ready to fight to the death for the trophy, that we had talked about the “Cuckoo’s nest” and we were asking everyone to interpret it as they want.
This was the dynamic of the four gladiators, so the Madrid F4 film ended and left us with a feeling of a promise. A promise for a new meeting of these four great European teams. Remember: Madrid and Olympiacos had two great squads with cores that were the elite players of their countries at this level and owned the know-how. Fener’s project was on its way up and they were closing in on where everyone saw that they reach in the near future (the top). Dimitris Itoudis had brought new ideas to these games, the all powerful CSKA Moscow. My friends, it’s time for the remake. Some things will be settled and others will maybe leave another promise…
Lots of questions remaining…
Is it again Olympiacos’ time in the city they won it all back in 2012? Spanoulis sees on the table the face of the person that has the biggest chance of being the next “boss” (Llull), but first he must settle things with the current status, the champions Teodosic and DeColo.
Giannis Sfairopoulos touched the dream at Madrid and he is allowed to believe that it’s his turn to have a taste of the Greek coaches’ stardom and beat Dimitris Itoudis for a second time in a semifinal.
Zelico Obradovic has marked these games, which include a possible meet-up with CSKA, since last year and the lost final of Berlin. He wants to be the one that is smiling when he and coach Itoudis hug…
Bogdan Bogdanovic and Sergio Llull “chose Europe” in order to live these three days. The Serbian super-star is desperately looking for “the win” before crossing the Atlantic, and Llull is looking to sit on the throne and have the title of the Alpha Dog for himself alone.
Dimitris Itoudis is facing the greatest challenge of his career. If he wins at Istanbul, he becomes the modern “godfather” of Europe, and his lieutenant (Teodosic) will leave (?) the European courts as a true winner and bring his stardust to the NBA.
Our team feelings aside, as true lovers of the sport, could you have better matchups than these…? I personally can’t wait…
We are honoured to host here, at Hoopfellas, the great Italian coach, Luka Banchi, one of the best tacticians of European basketball, who will share his thoughts and predictions for the two semi-finals of Istanbul. I will like to thank him for the honour and give him the floor so he can shed his light on these great battles…
“Good afternoon to you, Dimitris, and to the entire community. I hope you are all well. I am happy to have the chance to express my thoughts on the F4 on the Euroleague’s “new era”. So, fellas, let’s start with our predictions, and let’s MISS!!!
A very exciting matchup between two teams that were in the four of the last six F4s. Great memories from Olympiacos… So, it’s back to Istanbul for 9 people that were part of that dramatic final, two of whom (Hines and Sfairopoulos) have changed sides”.
The best offense (CSKA) versus the second best, more efficient defence of the Euroleague (Olympiacos). I believe that CSKA will struggle to match the intensity of Olympiacos’ game, but they have the way to win. Patience, good ball movement/circulation, very good shot selection and several clutch players.
Regarding Olympiacos, their great mission, if they want to win (and “destroy” my prediction) is to lead their opponents to a low scoring game, controlling the tempo and present some unforeseeable “important factors”, such as Green, Papapetrou and Birch.
Regardless of the score and the outcome, Giannis Sfairopoulos is my choice for the 2017 EL Coach of the Year!!!
CSKA Moscow-Olympiacos: CSKA Moscow by +6
I would like to start by remembering the two regular season games in order to understand that both teams knew from day one that sooner or later they would meet and fight for the Euroleague crown!
Hard, closed games, very “physical” with the two candidates for the MVP award (Llull and Bogdanovic) being able to bring the win to their side. The key-matchups are under the basket between Uhoh-Vessely and Ayon-Randolph. Athleticism vs Skills, expect a few surprises…
When Fener beat Madrid in the first game of the regular season, Nunnaly had his best game with the Turkish team jersey, but for this Friday’s game I would bet on Gigi “Jesus” Datome!
Fenerbahce-Real Madrid: Fenerbahce +11
Ciao a tutti da Luca Banchi… We ‘ll be in touch for another prediction before the final…
And the winner will be…
Enjoy the show, my friends…”
Coach Banchi was delightful… Let’s move on to our analysis and try to reflect as best as possible the “atmosphere” of the two matchups.
Fenerbahce vs Real Madrid
A matchup that writes its own history in the Obradovic era at Istanbul, as they met in the Madrid semifinals in 2015 (96-87 for the Spaniards), as well as last year’s Playoffs (3-0 for Fener, despite the shock of Vessely’s absence). This year, they split the wins with the Turkish team winning 78-77 at Istanbul (a non-existent foul on Carrol on the other side of the court on the last second with the score tied), and Real Madrid winning at Madrid 61-56.
Let’s begin our introduction with the matchups of two truly great teams…
The rule favours Fenerbahce…
These games are normally played in controlled tempo with the referees allowing contacts and choose for obvious reasons not to spend the night blowing their whistles all the time. The teams are trying to weigh in more each possession (valuing possessions basketball) and have a low mistake number, which consciously or subconsciously paves the way for a low tempo game. This tends to become the rule, which has each exceptions from time to time… There are many factors that may determine the tempo and there is a very thin line to cross on the other side, if you are not able to manage every new factor as the night goes on.
Fener know that they will have to have a near perfect defensive game. They are up against a team that shoots behind the arc (26.1, second only to Panathinaikos) and finds the target in most of these shots (9.8 per game) from any other team in the competition. They also have the best AST/TO ratio (1.7) and support their offense with offensive rebounds. Coach Obradovic will first of all prepare his players mentally and try to make them properly approach their defensive mission with the right physicality (so they do not risk getting into early foul trouble that would provide their opponents with the right momentum) and the proper psyche-up and be on the driver’s seat after the first defensive stops. He is very good at that. He knows how to do it. It will be interesting to see how much coach Laso will try to bring the game to “their court”. How much he will gamble and try to open up the tempo by creating favourable conditions for his team. Will he “spread” the defence and present a 1-2-2 zone press in 3/4 (Randolph as the catcher on the “head”), trap the “wing” and prevent the ball from entering the High Post with Maciulis, who is very good at playing this denial, rotating? Or will he just sit and wait, without risking much and expect their opponent to “break”, hoping that the quality and clutch nature of certain players will do it for his team? It’s possible… I believe that coach Obradovic will have the initiative from the beginning and that he may be greatly concerned by the momentum of a great player than a trick by coach Laso.
Zoc will be tactically ready. What “scares” every coach (I believe it scares him too) is managing the unexpected. A bad moment… Most people may be expecting Fener to come out blasting and take control of the game from the beginning; what happens, though, if the three-pointer “fairy” sits on the head of Madrid and Llull and Carrol make some shots on perfect defence, like the ones that make you scared stiff and transmit thoughts that “this is possibly our opponents’ night”… For a team that will have the (most in this F4) pressure to manage and is playing in front of their crowd this is extra dangerous. The F4 history is an irrefutable witness.
Statistical comparison from overbasket.com
A good hand for coach Obradovic in this match may be James Nunnaly. I have the feeling that he has a role to play, and an important one to that matter, as he can make plays both on offense and defense that will boost their team, which will be playing at home. Nunnaly found himself behind in the rotation in the second half of the Euroleague, but he’s been having a very good season in the TBL, where he has 12.6 points and 57.6% in three-pointers. In the last two months in the TBL he has 19.2 points and an extraordinary 24/32 (75%) on three pointers. His best performance was against TED last week, when he scored 40 points in just 22’. The wing from California is a strong backcourt player for coach Obradovic and he can play at the top of the defence on the opponent’s point guard, he is able (this is very important if he is – and I think he will be- asked to defend against Carrol) to “break” screens and chase away from the ball in Madrid’s ball screen offence, and he can also take spot shots, which will be needed by Fener. Especially in case the Madrilenos activate their famous zone defences (1-2-2 that end up in 3-2) coach Obradovic will methodically aim at executing with short-3s from the corners, with the main shooters being Datome and Nunally. As I said before about the former Kavala player, Fener were looking for their own Corey Higgins (Value/money choice of an American player away from the spotlight, a player that may give a more healthy character to teams that have blank cheque budgets) and if Zoc starts Sloukas-Bogdanovic in the backcourt (as he has done lately), the American’s 3&D character may be the “armour” when faced with the risk of the Serbian leader being worn down. However, (depending on the starting lineup of their opponents) I think that coach Obradovic is very likely to start the match with Dixon and his gritty character on defence (also ready for some important shots on offense) and depending on the conditions he will either choose Datome (early scoring) or Kalinic (Defensive stops) for the “3” positions.
In the two regular season games Kalinic had some minutes guarding Llull, and I can see him defending literally everywhere, even on Randolph when Fener may have to play small and become more aggressive, and literally put his face on his opponent’s. The Serbian’s hustle may be decisive, as will his ability to defend everywhere, as we saw in the Playoff series against Panathinaikos (Calathes, Singleton).
A similar role of great importance will be played by Jeffrey Taylor for Madrid as a backcourt defensive stopper. It will be interesting to see how coach Laso will approach Madrid’s rotation in a semifinal between two teams that like (and are able) to play Big throughout the season, although they had to become more flexible lately. Madrid has by far the deepest roster in the league. There is lots of athleticism, strong footwork and scoring abilities in every form. Taylor is the balancer and this is a great success for coach Laso, who, in the final stretch of the last season (especially in the ACB playoffs) managed to convince an offensive-minded player to focus on defence (Taylor used to be a good defender) and earn his minutes on the court together with a new contract. The former Bobcats guard will probably be the one to guard the rabid Bodgan Bogdanovic. This night will be a point of reference for the Swedish wing and his character against the machinegun from Belgrade. Taylor has the “feet”, length and athleticism to stay with any of Fener’s backcourt players (I am talking about Zoc’s point guards), but on Friday night they will need much more, and mainly perception and emotional intelligence, which are not Taylor’s strongest points.
Coach Laso is constantly “shuffling the cards” by managing his backcourt rotation during the season. In ACB, where things are different, he seems to prefer to go into a game trying to outscore his opponent by choosing Carrol next to Llull several times. In the Euroleague, he relied on the duo of Taylot-Maciulis on the wings (defensive approach) and relies on the axis of Llull-Frontcourt (Randolph-Ayon) to start the games. The series against Darussafaka and the need for better ball movement in the half court against coach Blatt’s 1-3-1 brought Donsic next to Llull, and it’s possible to trust the experience and class of Rudy in his starting backcourt for this semifinal. Let me remind you that coach Laso has enough quality deep in his bench and role players he can use, if he wants to take the game to wearing players down (Draper on Dixon, Tompkins as a “wild” + Spot 3s). I think that Madrid has to use this advantage. Taking the game to wearing down their opponent is in their favour, as they have much more depth. Can they work towards this direction? Can they answer with an eye for an eye and a fist for a fist and present us with an aggressive defensive character from the beginning…? It’s debatable…
The battle in the “stratosphere” will be decisive…
The head-on collision of the main two productive sources of the teams, Llull versus Bodganovic is in the spotlight, with both coaches expecting their stars to have an efficient, wise game and clear mind, which will inspire their teammates. These are two players that chose to stay in Europe for different reasons, dreaming of the night of the title and absolute success. Llull has already lived that, but this is his year and it’s only fair for him to want the “absolute”. I think that this game and in general this F4 is the supreme challenge for the Spanish guard. It’s his chance to be on the top and establish his status as “the best player playing in Europe today”. It’s time for him to be the leader and lead his team to overcome a situation where (as opposed to the Madrid F4) they are not the favourites. Everything will go through his hands and all eyes will be on him. In the most demanding Euroleague of all time he carried Real Madrid to the No1 spot of the regular season with excellent games and the ground for the final stretch is laid. Though, this ground is to be walked by legends only…
Bogdanovic’s psyche concentrates the drama he lived last year and the persistence for redemption Fener has shown during this season. I sometimes feel that what followed last year’s runner up place and the Berlin final was an invisible, secret oath between the people that lived these very powerful moments on the battlefield and what was later transformed into what was called a suicide, in order to come back and get what they think is rightfully theirs. This is what I see in Bogdanovic’s eyes and face. He has captivated people many times both with Fener and the Serbian national team, but he has not won. Is this the time to do it? Let’s see what’s written in the stars for him…
In reality, the big cards will be the frontcourt battle, where Ayon-Randolph and Udoh-Vessely are probably the best modern European club basketball has to offer. Ekpe Udoh has been at his best lately and he will be the cornerstone (together with ball pressure on half court) of Fener’s defence for preventing Madrid from scoring easy baskets, which Madrid scores mainly with the excellent finisher around the rim, Gustavo Ayon. Udoh had a great series against Panathinaikos with 13.3 points (17/26 two pointers) 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks, and had 140.1 in Offensive Rating, 59% TS in 9.8 possessions per game. In the last three TBL games he has 16.0 points with 18/26 two pointers and 2.3 assists. He is Fener’s safety net both in offense and defense (Zoc gives him the ball when the Nigerian player is efficient, finishing from 3.5 metres, i.e from within the mental line Fener seeks to execute most of their possessions) and his presence is always felt in big matches.
Gustavo Ayon had a similar good playoffs series; against Darussafaka he had 14.0 points (25/32 two pointers), 7.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 141.6 Offensive rating, 81% TS in 9.1 possessions per game. His battle with Udoh will be decisive, as will the matchup of Randolph-Vessely. Two excellent F/C, who (each in his own way) have been very clutch for their teams. In Madrid they believe that if Randolph is able to have a good offensive night and keep Vessely away from the rim, the chances of the “Queen” will increase to a great extent. After all, Randolph is a player that has the quality to provide a great performance and be dominant is such a pair of games. Vessely still hasn’t shaken off last year’s missed free throws and he will do anything to leave them behind (as such a thing doesn’t just fade away, you “are married” to it). He will enter the game with his usual passion and try to move his teammates and make the fans go wild from the beginning. All in all, Madrid’s duo is more offense oriented (and has enough mobility on defence, but less defensive touch), whereas Fener’s duo is more Defensive minded (and has very reliable finishing in the paint, good communication in high-low situations).
Just think of how important their role will be in an 180 second mini-match if the teams reach the final three minutes and the score is tied. This is where the game will go to one-on-one and the coaches will try to shield their defensive lanes with “switches”. If we take Hunter into account we can see that Real Madrid has the required agility in their frontline to activate a Hard Hedging approach to counter Fener’s PnR, especially the ones that follow Hand offs on the wing, and prevent the ball from entering with dribble in the middle lane, where Bodganovic and Sloukas are very dangerous. Both teams (CSKA as well) have certain characteristics that our teams (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos) lack and this is why we have more ground to cover to reach the top. I am referring to the fact that they run two efficient offenses that rely on cooperation and have a high degree of efficiency in execution, even if (due to pace) the exact number in the end of the night is in different levels.
Madrid are the most clutch team today. Do they have what it takes to “freeze” Hell…?
Prediction: Madrid is clearly the team with the largest arsenal in the competition. Its talent and range of skills combined with the depth of this roster is very powerful for this competition. Four of its players (Llull, Donsic, Carrol, Randolph) are in the top-12 clutch performers. Do they have what it takes to “freeze” Hell? This is supposed to be Fener’s party. This is what it’s supposed to be. Will they be able to crash their party like Baskonia did in Moscow against Ivkovic’s CKSA back in 2005?
It takes more than impressive amounts of talent from a well-oiled team to succeed that. Certainly great concentration and faith. However, the truth is that this is Europe. What we play here is the basketball of coaches. This is what gives the advantage to the Turkish team that will be playing at home. The Turks feel the aging of good wine. The optimal conditions are there for them. They are, and most important coach Obradovic is, in an excellent state lately. They have the tools, both game-wise and mentally, to be the ones left standing in such a battle, in the type of basketball played in such games of one breath. They are gritty enough, and most of all they are a team that has shown that they are able to comeback when they find themselves with their backs against the wall after, for example, halftime. They have worked hard for that and they can do it. Most of all they are hungry. The fear of defeat is certainly in the back of their heads (as the way things are now a loss will be a great disappointment). However, this is why the father figure of Obradovic is there. Due to the defensive readiness, which I think they will show us, as well as the energy their performance in this area will give them, Fener have the first word.
CSKA Moscow vs Olympiakos
Classic F4 match not writing history but being itself the league’s history in recent years. CSKA won both this year’s matches (75-81 in Faliro, 90-86 in Moscow) as they were better than Olympiacos with Nando De Colo having 23.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists in these two games.
Ssshhhh… They are still here.
I’m one of those who believe that the ghost haunting CSKA in F4s over the years is still not exorcised after last year’s huge success and the Euroleague title. Quite the opposite, I would say. Once again it made its appearance, with an admittedly very impressive entrance, in the second half of the final against Fener. By winning the title, the “Bear” managed to cast away the curse, but not the ghost they carry like a parrot on their shoulder. CSKA also knows it, despite denying it. This doesn’t mean that they will again be brought on their knees. The biggest gain from last year’s success is that CSKA has learned to live with this ghost and not hide underneath the covers rocking back and forth when faced with it. It is, I think, a condition associated with the DNA of the team and the stimuli of the broader Russian culture and temperaments have also played their part (regardless of the persons making up the team).
Think of the emotional world of the CSKA players (the same players that last year got to the top of Europe) if they enter the last four minutes of the semi-final with a small lead and watch Spanoulis score two back to back long shots. At that very moment the Greek star will look like that in their eyes.
..and yes, the very first image that comes into your mind is very possible to actually happen in the final stretch of the game.
Remember a paragraph that by some magical way (why indeed…) the page passes on the next season’s relative post from 2015 until today when we had talked about “the curse of the black pearl”..
“Vatunin’s crew seems cursed. And the treasure they hold (huge investments and big budget) is probably their curse, which, just like in Gore Verbinski’s film, every night turns the pirates into skeletons under the moonlight. The analogy is even stronger if you combine the unrecognizable in many F4 games CSKA players (under the moonlight) with the players (pirates) turned worse (skeleton)..”
Over the last three years coach Itoudis has done a terrific job in Moscow trying to change every last thing in the team’s DNA (game style, approach of special situations in the court and the market with regard to how a modern team is built, abandoning the so far attachment to traditional beliefs) bringing a libertarian air that conforms to the coach’s principles, but is also in harmony with the evolutionary course of the sport. With him the “bear” became smaller and faster without losing its defensive coherence and the choice to hop in the Pace & Space offense train gave birth to one of the most productive and well-worked offense of the league in recent years. The most important advantage of this construction is that they don’t strictly aim at outscoring their opponent, but they have the ability to change “shell”, to adapt in order to survive in different battles. Whether it is a 100 meter race or a duel inside a cage…
For Olympiacos the situation is good. It could have been better hadn’t the Greek team these two serious injuries of very important players (Hackett, Lojeski) but they feel comfortable (maybe more so than a more quality team than Olympiacos would feel against CSKA) matched up with the European champions and this comes in the atmosphere regarding this particular semi-final.
Olympiacos have the weapons to play such games. Indeed the team has been constructed to survive such matches. The team’s recent history in “one breath” games created a school from which every new squad of the Reds leaps out season after season. Just remember what you read above (“the rule favours Fener”) for the usual context in which these battles take place. It is not the rule, but it is very possible to happen. The Reds have basic elements to win such games. A pair of great stars, proven winners at this level (Spanoulis-Printezis) that has proven knowledge of playing such game, piercing through the film of overachieving. Experience and coherence. Intangibles (maybe the greatest between the four contenders). And above all, a very good defensive squad built on versatility which (combined with the presence of the two stars) is key for the increased chances for victory that the Reds have in very close matches that may be determined by one possession. In Hoopfellas we have focused a lot on this tendency that dominates European basketball. Year after year it makes its presence all the more clear given the Euroleague’s structure. At their final stretch close matches are usually played one on one and that’s where you need players able to make defensive plays and finish on one on one situations. When the game goes there, Real will not lose from Zoc’s multiscreen Box offense but their luck will be decided by whether they can defend (especially in one on one) against Bogdanovic, Dixon or Udoh’s game in the low post. Olympiacos will not lose from the extra quick movement of the ball from the strong to the weak side and CSKA’s skip passes, but their luck will be determined by whether they can defend against the amazing in one on one guards of the “bear” and whether they can grab the defensive rebound.
So, this team (Olympiacos) is built to play mini-finals of 180 seconds. It has great homogeneity, orientation, faith, versatility to play very good individual and team defense plus two players not prone to make mistakes when the clock dips towards zero. To get there, however, where the chances of winning will be equal for the two opponents, a great amount of effort is required from the Greek team and they must work very hard on the court to keep to a low score an opponent that is clearly superior in offensive skills.
Requirememt: Olympiacos needs an exemplary defensive game to claim the victory. Nothing less…
This will be the basis of their tactical approach of the game and it is only on this that Olympiacos can built their game in this semi-final. This year again, Giannis Sfairopoulos has done an exceptional job in this part. He is quite competent in adjusting his defense on the offensive skills of the opponent and this ability of his gives him the right to risk, presenting new elements based on the good knowledge of his team. Olympiacos will confront a unique team that has established their own game style in the Itoudis era. In open and half court they play at the fastest tempo and they are the best Shooting team in the league, while at the same time they are famous for their cooperation, working “together” for most of the points they produce.
The truth is that we have identified a problem in the defensive match up of the Reds against teams that move the ball properly and quickly from the strong to the weak side, working simultaneously on actions on and away from the ball (CSKA, Brose). Filtering the modus operandi of coach Itoudis in similar situations, I believe that CSKA (as they have done throughout the season) will not abuse outside execution but, on the contrary, they will seek to “wisely” take advantage of every miss match by getting the ball in the paint (they have guards with the ability to put the ball correctly at the expected spot even under pressure) or by playing one on one vertically. So Mantzaris and Papanikolaou are expected to be the main pillars in the peripheral defense of the Greek team with logic dictating heavy minutes for them (as the players who will spend more time against De Colo – Teodosic). Therefore, it is important to score spot shots, remaining connected to the basket, given that their percentage shapes the formation of the opponent’s defense. It is important for coach Sfairopoulos not to need to cover a possible poor evening of these two by using weaker defensive formations for more minutes. I also think that the Russians will give the ball to Spanoulis’s player from the beginning in order to wear him down and this needs to be handled properly by the Greek team. Jackson’s presence in the starting line-up may ostensibly make things easier (so that the Reds’ captain will not have to play defense at 7-5 meters), however, I’m under the impression that CSKA will transfer the ball to him to try to drive through a close out offense. An important element is the first balls that touch at Kurbanov’s post ups that help them balance and enter the game smoothly without thoughtless shootout from the beginning.
A statistical comparison from overbasket.com..
Stay in Contact, Stay Connected
The nature of the Greek defense (frequent use of “switching”) does not allow a clear view from behind the arc and this is why the Reds are the team against whom the opponents shoot the fewest three-pointers (19.1 per game) also with low percentage (35.3%, fifth best defensive performance in the league). The “key” for Olympiacos in the backcourt is summed up in the phrase which should be written in capitals on the blackboard of the changing rooms. Stay in Contact, Stay Connected. There is no other way to handle the Elbow execution after the Pin Down Screen that CSKA works for De Colo (Higgins, Fridzon, Milos). You have to reach a high level communication to control the ball in Blind/Back Screens (when the other guard goes up the main lane as a screener to make space for penetration after a middle PnR) or in the Running Hand Off I described before the series with Baskonia..
On the other hand CSKA’s Running Hand Off is one of the most spectacular half court plays in European basketball with the way Teodosic and De Colo apply it in the court. Immediate change of A-Set to 3-2 format aiming at putting one of the two “magicians” quickly in the main lane and setting up mid PnR. This is the epitome of “I know what you are about to do, but I don’t know how to stop it…” as the multi-talented players make this situation unstoppable…
It will also be very interesting to see the defensive approach of coach Sfairopoulos against the Pick & Roll of the Russians, which they integrate in almost every expression of their offensive playbook. Depending of the position of the ball, the handler or the defensive player of the weak side, Olympiacos will have to choose. Note that the offensive approach (activation of Hard Hedge) is not always effective against a team that knows better than anyone how to create (after getting the ball out fast from the bordering on trapping offensive defense post screen) half-court fast breaks playing with an extra player and executing immediately four against three or three against two situations.
Rebounding and defense in the paint
I still remember the defensive seminar of the Reds in London’s semi-finals against the “bear” in a game where their defense on the ground and their positioning in total touched perfection. It was a performance that showed emphatically the level of concentration that team had, perfectly executing every last tactical detail in the backcourt. Olympiacos has the stature and athleticism to stay “together” with the ball in CSKA’s offense, although, as already said, (and since no pair of legs moves as fast as a ball in the air) the main criterion of success lies in communication. In both of this year’s matches between the two teams, the Reds showed that they are able to win the battle of the skies from the CSKA players. Olympiacos is the best rebounding team and, from there, they can control the pace. Rebounding and post defense (including the free throws you concede to the opponent, CSKA has an average of 21.6, of course No1 in the league) can nevertheless give the advantage pace-wise. It goes without saying that Olympiacos will try to cut the court in half and go to set game since the context of multiple possessions (more touches, execution chances) may help coach Itoudis’s scorers to warm up.
Milutinov and Vorontsevich
I think they are two players who can boost their team through various parts of the game. CSKA’s small ball can be hurt (not over time but for a particular period of time) by the Serbian’s size, who can make the difference in battles above the rim. To me, it will not come as a surprise if he takes more balls in the low post so that the Greek team can reap the advantages of “I touch the ball at low post” even though the key to his presence will be his aggressiveness (he must remain aggressive, the depth of the Greek team in this position gives allows to do so). It is also important in the absence of Lojeski (with minimum contribution in Spot shooting) for Green and Papapetrou to make their presence felt; they are players who have to keep the spaces at an “honest” level for Spanoulis and Printezis.
Vorontsevich, on the other hand, is one of the most underestimated players of our times as he is a very important tool in CSKA’s machine over the years, being undisputedly one of the most complete forwards in Europe. A strong, tough and well-trained player who covers three positions (his size is key the “bear’s” Small units), he plays defense in both lines and shoots amazingly from behind the arc (48.5% in three-pointers this year). Sure he has plenty good looks with the defences being adapted to the main lane and CSKA’s magicians in the middle PnR, but when Vorontsevich isn’t shooting well the Russian’s offense isn’t the same. Another important player is Higgins for whom this page has great respect. Being a rookie in EL, he showed his quality in last year’s F4, having adjusted in different roles earlier in the season (he started as a facilitator in the guards, run PnR, came forward even as a defensive stopper) producing many clutch plays for the champions. He is not “infected” by the defeatism that used to haunt the team and this helped him. Olympiacos shouldn’t underestimate him but, quite the contrary, even expect extra (in number) executions from him in the semi-final.
The Spanoulis factor
It goes without saying that the greatest part of CSKA’s defensive attention will turn to the Spanoulis-Printezis duo, in the sense that they are two top-class players with experience that anyone would be jealous of at this level. In the case of the captain, the “alarm” already triggered by the… Russian authorities in not only due to fact that he is SPANOULIS, but also (on a more practical level) because he is the only true creator of the Reds.
I can say that back in 2015, the “bear” had played a very good defensive game on him, being very careful in details. What came next at the final stretch of the match, however, was one of the greatest personal performance ever to be given in the F4 history that only players of his class can give us..
When Spanoulis “comes back” in such matches you come eye to eye with fate. In my opinion, Dimitris Itoudis will at first try to hit the Greek super-star on the “Achilles’ heel” of turnovers using length and backcourt communication. Even today, in such matches Spanoulis seems 20 centimeters taller from the rest of the mortals in the court but he is prone to turnovers. So, deflections will play a big role both ways but also in the case of Spanoulis in particular, whose presence ensures good shots for his teammates. Olympiacos needs a low mistake game from their captain, as much as this is possible, against a pretty competent defense such as CSKA’s. His mind and condition feed all his teammates and, with the exception of Printezis, the productivity of the rest of them is linked with some sort of umbilical cord to the captain’s game. Kurbanov, Jackson, Higgins, and at the final stretch, Hines will be expected to look in the eye the “beast” of such games with the American center and former teammate being the “wild card” on either him or Printezis with a clear-cut one on one during the last 2-3 minutes, if needed, since the size of CSKA’s forwards allows coach Itoudis to follow this tactic. In the two matches this year, every time Spanoulis was “locked” with Hines at the final stretch, Olympiacos sought a direct pass to the weak side in order to shoot away from the super defensive player of the Russians and, most of all, in order to make him stay at the perimeter, far from a possible execution in the paint where his presence is usually decisive. I feel that coach Sfairopoulos will retain Spanoulis as the only guard in “1”when he tries the formation with Papanikolaou-Papapetrou on the wings because, against such a good offense (that you can’t keep away from the basket for a long, continuous period of time) you have to stay creative. This year CSKA forces their opponents to several turnovers (15.0) but they also (fast pace of course, but Real also plays at high tempo..) make a lot too (14.4). Turnovers are a “sign” in these matches. This is why it is important for Olympiacos to end possessions with execution (even missed) instead of fumbling the ball, thus laying the ground for transition to the guards of the Russians. Passing requires great attention. I will not be surprised (on the contrary, I’m expecting it) by a clear trapping from coach Itoudis (or ICE) at Spanoulis’s Side picks (to prevent him from becoming involved in the final stretch of the Reds’ offense, even if the “bear” gambles with a player less) and at Printezis’s post ups. You see how valuable a clear mind and ready hands are in such cases..
Between the two, CSKA has more quality. No doubt about that. Olympiacos (without being the favourite) has a good chance to walk out of this battle alive. Also no doubt about that…
Prediction: I think that this is a semi-final that, in the beginning of the season, all of us would choose –if we had the opportunity- to watch. The history of the two teams in “one breath” games is a ball of yarn still unravelling, and it has given every basketball fan some of the brightest moments in the history of the league. The duel (starting from the people at the edge of the benches) is of immense interest. For European champion Dimitris Itoudis, Olympiacos is the ultimate challenge to prove that in his days CSKA has changed the way they see, approach and face critical situations. Nevertheless, a second back to back final against Obradovic’s Fener (and on Turkish soil nonetheless) gives him the chance to skyrocket his reputation as the “boss” of the European coaching stage. CSKA will be well-prepared on the details and has one more chance for the victory mainly because their defense can keep the limited offense of the Greek team at a low score. Olympiacos, of course, will be a difficult obstacle. They know how to wake the ghost in the bear’s eyes better than any other team and the emotional status of the outsider coupled with the context in which these games are usually played, give them a good chance for Friday evening. It will not be easy for the Greek team to score much against CSKA, which automatically means that they need to take the game to low score at any cost and play the “Russian roulette” of the last 3-4 minutes. The point where each possession is the line between life and death.
If it comes down to that, I know a guy who puts the gun on his head and smiles..
P.S.: I was reading this the day before yesterday and I have to add the link in today’s post. Dedicated to the great, modern genius of the European basketball.. It’s very interesting to read this a year later. “Τhe Idiot”–Milos Teodosic.
P.S.1: Once again this year, two Greek coaches in the F4..
Translated by: George-Orestis Zoumpos
Author: Dimitris Katsionis