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Second thoughts: Greece is the word
Basketball junkie Yarone Arbel has been traveling the globe to watch games for almost a decade. He works as an analyst for official websites of the top competitions and events in European basketball. He also uses his experience and broad network of connections to provide consulting and scouting services for clubs at all levels.
There was only one team before that produced, on a consistent basis, comebacks such as the one Olympiacos did on Sunday night. It was the Greek national team between 2005 and 2007, which time after time managed to find the way to come back from the grave and somehow win games. Probably it wasn't a coincidence the greatest comeback in Euroleague finals was done by a Greek team. And by saying "Greek", I mean that it was fully displayed on the floor and in the boxscore. Out of the 62 points scored by Olympiacos, 52 were generated by Greek players. Pero Antic scored 7 and Marko Keselj added 3. The three Americans went scoreless, Martynas Gecevicius didn't play. The rest was 100-percent pure Greek basketball.
In Olympiacos fashion
It looks like Olympiacos has found the ingredients to win the most prestigious trophy in European basketball. This is the second Euroleague title for Olympiacos. The first was in 1997 and the coach back then was the same Duda Ivkovic. Now Ivkovic is the oldest coach ever to win the title, but his memories from 1997 certainly didn't hurt his team to have the confidence to believe. When it won the title 15 years ago, Olympiacos finished the first group stage with a 5-5 record and also had to go through the playoffs without home court advantage to make the Final Four. That Olympiacos team was the title-winner with the worst record ever at the end of the first phase. The 2012 team finished the first stage with a 6-4 record, one win from elimination, for the second-worst record of a future Euroleague champion at the end of the first round. No other teams other than the 1997 and the 2012 versions of Olympiacos won the title after losing so many games during the season. Ivkovic on the bench and an unimpressive start for the season are a must from now on. And just as 15 years ago, now as well Olympiacos won the title one season after archrivals Panathinaikos.
Rarities, except in Istanbul
It's reasonable to believe that anyone who has ever played basketball as a kid imagined the scene in their back yard: the game clock is running down, tick after tick, the big game is close, the fans are ecstatic and then the shot leaves the hand to decide the game and…swish! Here's how special it was for Printezis to fulfill that dream. You didn't only watch a thrilling finish on Sunday night. You witnessed a rarity. A scenario that almost never happens. Since 1958 until 2012, a long history of Euroleague finals, the shot of Printezis was only the second ever to decide the top game in the last second. There were several close final games, but in all but two the last shot was a missed one. The first one was the famous three-pointer by Aleksandar Djordjevic in 1992. Oddly, very oddly, both rarities took place in…Istanbul.
The CSKA heart-breakers
In the last seven seasons CSKA reached the title game of the Euroleague no less than five times. They won twice, both over Maccabi Tel Aviv, but it's interesting to pay attention to the three losses. All three losses were to Greek teams – the first two to Panathinaikos and the last one to their archrivals, Olympiacos. But more outstanding is the fact that the sum of all three losses is 5 points. The losses to Panathinaikos were by two points each and this one to Olympiacos by a single point. Being a CSKA fan can be a heart-breaker thing…
A shared MVP
Vasilis Spanoulis won the MVP award of the finals. It was the second time he wins it, and by doing so he joined a short list of greats who won this award more than once: Dejan Bodiroga (Panathinaikos 2002 and Barcelona 2003) and Dimitris Diamantidis (Panathinaikos 2007 and 2011) won it twice, and one Toni Kukoc (Spilt in 1990 and 1991, Benetton in 1993) won it three times. But awarding Spanoulis, an All-Euroleague first team member and surely a worthy candidate for the season MVP award, takes the spotlight from one amazing fact. The player that is the face of the team, and that was the main executor from the first day of the Euroleague to the last, didn't have a major role, to say the least, in the amazing comeback. When CSKA took its 19-point lead in the 28th minute, Spanoulis went to the bench for the entire 14-0 run that put Olympiacos back in the game. He returned with seven minutes to go when Olympiacos was already glued to CSKA. From then until the buzzer, he took one shot and missed. Ah, yeah, he did dish the winning assist, but he didn't win MVP for that. Not to take a thing from the importance of Spanoulis to the team and to the trophy. He was the one that carried them there, his presence on the floor in the last minutes was crucial as well, but just like said by Euroleague champ George Zidek on Euroleague.TV, Spanoulis brought the kids to the promised land and then released them to express themselves. Often players say they'd like to share their MVP award with their teammates. No case was straighter than this.
Almost the least exciting ever…
The two worst things a sport match can have are low level of execution and an expected result. For 28 minutes we got both. For 28 minutes it was on the way to be one of the worst Euroleague finals ever. There was a clear favorite that held almost a 20-point difference. The teams weren't playing their top game. The score was low. Turnovers were high. When Maccabi won by 44 points back in 2004, at least one team played amazingly and records were smashed one by one. That game was memorable also in a positive way. That wasn't the case here. The second-biggest loss ever in a Euroleague finals was actually by…Olympiacos, only two years ago in Paris, when FC Barcelona won by 18 points. Although in that game there was no clear favorite. It was a clash of two giants. It makes a difference. For 28 minutes, it felt like this title game was one that none of us, other than CSKA people of course, would want to remember. But then…
What happened? Part I
"We lost the game more than Olympiacos won it," said Kirilenko after the game and in some ways it's true. How did CSKA lose the game? Well, it was a two-way street. The first was the mistakes by those with the ball and the second is about those who didn't touch the ball. CSKA generated in the last 12 minutes no less than 8 turnovers. Half of them by Milos Teodosic, but four other players contributed one each. Let's sharpen it a bit. In 28 minutes, CSKA turned the ball over 14 times. A turnover every 2 minutes, which is already a lot. In the closing 12 minutes, it lost the ball every 1.5 minutes. Moreover, its shot selection was awful. In those 12 minutes, CSKA went 2 in 11 from the field. The made shots? A post-up by Siskauskas and AK's slash to the rim. Close-range shots. The missed shots were all by perimeter players. Two by Jamont Gordon, two by Siskauskas, one by Alexey Shved and… four by Teodosic. Close-range shots are a great need when things aren't working out. Even more in times of pressure. Especially when the biggest guy on the floor on the defensive end is Kyle Hines, as was the case for most of those crucial minutes.
What happened? Part II
So who didn't touch the ball? Well, you were able to figure it out from the last graph, but here's the issue. Throughout the entire season the two most efficient players in the Euroleague were Kirilenko and Nenad Krstic. They both lead the entire league in index rating by a far margin from the third-ranked player. Two players on the same team leading the league with such ease is something we have never seen before. What did Kirilenko and Krstic do in the last 12 minutes? Well, not a lot. Krstic came back in the game with 9 minutes to play when CSKA was still up by 13. From then until the buzzer he turned the ball over once, drawn a foul and made 2 points from the foul line. That's all. AK was obviously more active, but not on offense. He came back in the 32nd minute when the gap was already down to 8 points. The first shot he took was only 5 minutes later, and he scored. The next minute, he drew a foul and made 1 out of 2 free throws. One last touch he had was a tough pass that slipped from his hands under the rim with CSKA ahead 60-56 with 73 seconds to play. In sum, the two most efficient players in the Euroleague generated only 5 points in the last 12 minutes, attempting only 3 shots and turning the ball over twice.
So what the hell happened? Part III
Well, something did happen also on the other end. When Spanoulis left the court and Vangelis Mantzaris came back in the game, things changed. Olympiacos turned the ball over 18 times in the first 28 minutes, but just twice more until the buzzer. Until the 28th minute, only
players were on the score sheet of Olympiacos and shared 34 points. After that, four more joined the list. The Reds had made just 4 three-pointers in 14 attempts until the 28th minute, but scored the same amount in 50% accuracy after, with each triple made by a different player. Coach Ivkovic figured that he couldn't go head-to-head with the size of CSKA, so he moved to a short lineup. He played small ball. The great tool of the underdogs. With the 1.98-meter Hines as his big and four Greek guards and wings, Olympiacos pushed the ball fast and tried to execute quick points in transition whenever possible. On the set offense, it looked for the long-range shot and smartly used mismatches. But don't think it was just a matter of offense. On defense, Olympiacos showed much more intensity and a great team game. Closing the passing lanes and forcing CSKA to where they wanted them to be.
The plus and the minus
The Euroleague added to its netcasts this season the +/- ranking, and in a game that had such two difference faces, it's interesting to see who was ranked where. Straight numbers. The biggest minus for CSKA was Siskauskas with -11. Next were Krstic and Teodosic with -7 each. Andrei Kirilenko was actually +6. On the other side, the one to have the highest plus was Mantzaris, with +16 in less than 26 minutes. Following was Kyle Hines with +10 in less than 19 minutes and Marko Keselj with +9 in less than 14 minutes. Spanoulis? -7. Papanikolaou? -8.
When CSKA broke the game open in the second quarter behind the three long-range hits by Teodosic, the scent was that "we have an MVP" for the game. Milos took over and was the one who released the pressure for CSKA, opening a gap that nobody believed Olympiacos could recover from. If CSKA had won the game, the one who deserved the MVP award was Milos. Yet his finish was one of the reasons his team dropped the game, and cost him the team and individual awards. His finish was probably one of his worst quarters ever. He entered the last quarter shooting 5 of 9 from the floor with just 1 turnover. In the last quarter, he missed 4 shots and turned the ball over 4 times. His index rating for the last quarter was -9.
Kostas, Kyle and Georgios
In case you didn't notice, Kostas Papanikolaou didn't miss a single shot from the field the entire weekend. Until now no other player comes to mind as having had a perfect shooting Final Four. Kostas went 1-for-1 on two-pointers and 2-for-2 on threes in the semis, then improved 2-for-2 and 3-for-3, respectively, in the title game. This is a rare performance. Kyle Hines was the exact opposite on offense. He went 1-4 in the semi-finals for just 2 points and in the title game missed all 4 shots to go scoreless and turned the ball over 5 times for an index rating of -7. But if you get a chance to watch the last 12 minutes of the game, pay a close attention to his work on defense and how important his blocks, deflections and team defense were for this run. Georgios? Yes, he'll be remembered forever for his last shot, but in case you missed he scored all his 12 points in the last 12 minutes and had an index rating of… 12. He scored the first basket of those incredible last 12 minutes and, of course, he scored the last one. A look back on his performance the entire season shows it was no coincidence. In the first seven games of the regular season, Printezis scored in double-digits just once. In the last three regular season games, when Olympiacos needed to secure its spot in the Top 16, he averaged 14.3 points. In the Top 16 he scored 16 points in each of the last two games he played, including the must-win game over Galatasaray Medical Park. In the playoffs, he scored 20 points in Game 1, when the Reds stole the home-court advantage. In the semifinal win over Barcelona, he had 14. Printezis was there for Olympiacos every time he was needed throughout the entire season.
During the season it was already mentioned on this blog, maybe even more than once, how romantic the journey of Olympiacos this season has been. And how, after years of huge spending, owners Giorgos and Panagiotis Angelopoulos decided to cut the budget drastically and go back to the basics after seeing the dream of winning the Euroleague frustrated in the Final Four and playoffs each of the previous three years. Nobody had a title dream for Olympiaocs coming into this season. The Olympiacos of 2011-12 was the "less is more" example of the Euroleague. This title of Olympiacos is the most romantic thing European basketball has seen in many years. Facing the richest, clearest favorites, including the best team in the Euroleague this season, CSKA, with the best player in the title game, Olympiacos prevailed. With a huge comeback from the grave. With the rarity of winning on the buzzer. With nobody believing they could win it – other than Olympiacos players themselves and one Euroleague.net blogger. It all connected and made the 2012 title game the most heartwarming and pure of basketball winners Europe has seen in a very long time. Keep it in your hearts. Embrace it.
Yarone Arbel, Euroleague.net
Friday, May 18, 2012
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