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Kostas Papanikolaou, Olympiacos Piraeus
Apr 24, 2013
by Javier Gancedo, Euroleague.net
It will be the seventh time that Olympiacos Piraeus and Anadolu Efes Istanbul face each other in the 2012-13 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season, but no game between them will be more important than the first Game 5 of the playoffs for either in the Euroleague this century. On Friday, Olympiacos hosts Efes at the Peace and Friendship Stadium to finish their best-of-five series with a winner-take-all showdown to reach the 2013 Final Four in London. With the season on the line for both teams, it will be an intense, exciting battle in which Olympiacos can defend its title or Efes can reach its first Final Four in more than a decade. All six previous games between them were won by the home teams, so Olympiacos must make the home court advantage count once more to the Final Four. One of its main pillars in that effort is small forward Kostas Papanikolaou, who starred in the 2012 Final Four, kick-starting his young, promising career at the elite level. Papanikolaou has averaged 9 points on 53.4% three-point shooting and 4.6 rebounds this season, while offering some of the most spectacular dunks and blocks of the competition. Papanikolaou hopes that all the hard work Olympiacos did this season will now pay off. "This is what you fight for all season - to get the home court advantage. We worked hard to have it and now we must use it," Papanikolaou told Euroleague.net. "It is one game, anything can happen. I just hope it goes our way."
Hello, Kostas. Your Euroleague season goes down to one game. How is Olympiacos feeling before Game 5?
"Well, this is what you fight for all season - to get the home court advantage. We worked hard to have it and now we must use it. It is one game, anything can happen. I just hope it goes our way."
Efes managed to force Game 5. Does that give them a psychological advantage, or every game is totally different from each other?
"I think that, like you said, they might have some psychological advantage after winning the last two games, but we play the game on our home court, in front of our fans, who know how to cheer for us and help us."
These teams have played six times this season already, splitting home wins. Does that make the home court advantage even more important now?
"Of course! It is only one game and we play it on our home court. All the hard work we did all season has to pay off right now. This is the whole point of the Top 16 - to get the home court advantage in the playoffs. We are happy that we got it in the last game of the Top 16. Otherwise, this would be a totally different situation."
How can your own crowd make the difference in a game like this?
"For sure, they can help us a lot. When we start making some shots, they will cheer for us and this may bring the other team down. If we are not playing well, they will clap their hands and try to help us to get back and take the game. It is very important for us."
At this point there will be few surprises, as both teams know each other very well. Which will be the biggest key for Olympiacos to win this game?
"I think that the key to this game is who wants it more. Like you said, we have played each other six teams already and there is nothing much you can change, tactically speaking. The team that goes on court and fights more will show its opponent that they really want to win the game. This is what we did in last year's Final Four. We wanted it more than anyone else and won the title."
Your three-point accuracy has risen 20% this season. How did that happen?
"In addition to team practice, you have to work on your own if you want to improve and help the team more. I worked the whole summer and during the season with our coaches, who have helped me a lot. I am trying to improve my game but I also have to give a lot of credit to my teammates. Most of the times, they created some shots from me. If they weren't there, maybe I wouldn't have these shots."
Vassilis Spanoulis said in a previous interview that 'everybody had to play his role - no more, no less'. What's your role in Olympiacos?
"I am trying to do what the team needs me to do. I try to give my energy and defense. Those are the first things I am trying to give. If I can take some shots and I have the opportunity to create for somebody else, of course I will do it. I think everything starts from defense. That is what brings your confidence up."
Olympiacos has a reputation for playing together, as a team. How important is this great chemistry in your success?
"First of all, Olympiacos has great character - everybody knows that and can see that. This is what helps the team to improve more and more. When you put yourself below the team, only good things can happen. We are not just teammates; we are friends. We hang out together and have a good time all together. It is very important to have this great chemistry."
How did winning the Euroleague help you to be become a better player?
"Winning the Euroleague title gave me confidence and the will to try harder and work more for me and my team. This is the most important thing that it gave me: confidence."
What would it mean for you, personally, to play another Final Four, with a chance to successfully defend the Euroleague title?
"We want to go there - who wouldn't? This is a great opportunity for us to get back to the Final Four and like you said, try to defend the title. It would be a big accomplishment for me and my team. We saw in recent years that the Euroleague champion doesn't play that well the following season. For us, being the Euroleague champion and returning to the Final Four this season would be a great accomplishment. And it would be great for our fans, too."