The spotlight was bright on Friday in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs! With two teams fighting to reach the Final Four and two others battling to stay alive, only two teams could be happy. Those were Olympiacos Piraeus, which forced a Game 5 in its series, and Real Madrid, which marched to a victory and a Final four berth for the fifth time in the last seven seasons. The EuroLeague Gurus broke down some of the keys to each game.
Patience, threes and Spanoulis keep the Reds alive
Down 2-1 in the series and down 27-14 in the second quarter of Game 4 in the packed and rowdy Abdi Ipekci Arena, things did not look good for Olympiacos Piraeus. The home side, led by Jayson Granger, fed off the energy from the fans and seemed to be in complete control of the game they needed to win to clinch a place in the Final Four. But soon enough, Olympiacos started coming back. “I think we had patience, and were patient enough to find open shots,” Olympiacos head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos said into the EuroLeague.TV microphone at halftime, explaining how his team managed to cut such a big deficit to only 38-35 at the break.
Olympiacos got a great boost from Kostas Papanikolaou, who made plays on defense, and hit an important corner three-pointer, while Erick Green made a crack in the Efes defense with his baskets after penetration before sinking a triple himself. Vassilis Spanoulis also added a three of his own late in the second quarter, before Olympiacos turned hot from the perimeter in the third quarter. On its first seven possessions of the third quarter, Olympiacos was 5 for 5 from three-point range. Vangelis Mantzaris, Georgios Printezis and Papanikolaou each hit once, and Spanoulis nailed a pair of triples. Olympiacos went in front and Efes never led again, despite staying close throughout the entire high-scoring third quarter.
Despite the three-point barrage, it was actually Olympiacos’s trademark defense that was allowing such development in the first place. The defensive stops they were getting helped the Reds play to their rhythm and liking and catch up in the first half, and not allow Efes to grab the lead in the second. Olympiacos already forced 9 turnovers and held Efes to 1 of 11 three-point shooting in the first half, then after a brief shoot-out in the third quarter, the Reds’ defense went on to dominate. “They scored only 62 points, and scored only 8 points in the last period,” Sfairopoulos explained after the victory. “I think from [our defense] we got better offense, better ball movement, better shots, and we shared the ball better than the previous game.”
Opposing head coach Perasovic revealed that he felt Olympiacos realized the lack of confidence in his players, which enabled the visitors to play with the calculated risk of allowing some long shots, which were simply not falling for Efes. “All the games we have played in this series we had bad three-point percentages. It is very difficult to beat Olympiacos like that. Olympiacos finally stayed inside, did not allow us easy baskets. We had many open shots, but we did not score them”, Perasovic said.
Olympiacos not only held Efes to 8 points in the final 12 minutes of the game, but had two periods of more than four minutes during that span when it did not allow a single basket. On the other end, in the fourth quarter Ioannis Papapetrou, Spanoulis and Green raised the Olympiacos three-point tally to 12, which was the second-most three-point shots Olympiacos ever made in a playoff game. And in a game it started with a 13-point deficit, Olympiacos ended up cruising to victory and forcing a Game 5 on its home floor.
Thompkins leads big effort from Madrid bigs and bench
It was hard to argue with Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso after Game 4 when he summed up his team’s 78-89 victory over Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul, which sent Los Blancos back to the Final Four. “I think we controlled almost every situation during the 40 minutes. We got a good advantage, we played solid,” Laso explained. “If you look at the stats, we more or less dominate every single aspect and that means we did a great job as a team.”
More analysis that that is hardly needed. But let’s look at the numbers that stand out most. Madrid dished 21 assists, while Darussafaka had a third as many. Each team made only 6 three-pointers, but Madrid attempted 16 shots from downtown for a 37.5% success rate. Darussafaka tried 11 more than Madrid and would up making only 22.2%. And the Madrid bench outscored their counterparts 20-33, with Trey Thompkins and his season-high 15 leading the way.
In fact, Thompkins’s presence ranks up there with everything else Laso spoke about. Not only did the big man notch season highs with 15 points and 2 blocks, but his effort allowed Anthony Randolph to play only 21 minutes after logging a season-high 35 in Game 3. And Thompkins was not merely a stopgap measure; he took charge with 8 points and a block in a 0-10 second-quarter run that gave Madrid the lead for good.
Thompkins teamed with Randolph and Gustavo Ayon to ensure the visitors also got more production from the big man spots than Darusafaka did. The five Madrid bigs – those three plus Felipe Reyes and Othello Hunter – combined for 39 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks. Their counterparts – Ante Zizic, Adrien Moerman, Marcus Slaughter, Luke Harangody, Furkan Aldemir and Will Clyburn (who played minutes at the’4’ in a small lineup) – totaled 21 points, 18 rebounds and 1 block.
Madrid won Game 4 and the series by using superb production from its big men and its second unit, with Jaycee Carroll and Dontaye Draper among other reserves to play big roles in the series. And that makes it a dangerous team for the Final Four.