The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs are over and the final dish was a hard-fought Game 5 between Olympiacos Piraeus and Anadolu Efes Istanbul on Tuesday evening that saw the Reds claim the last spot at the Final Four. For much of the game, very little separated the sides. The EuroLeague Gurus share what they felt made the biggest difference in that clash.
Olympiacos is both calm and aggressive to pull away from Efes
The first three minutes of the third quarter may very well be what decided Game 5 between Olympiacos and Efes. The visitors led by 4 at halftime, but the Reds scored the first 9 points of the second half to make it 46-41 and never trailed again. Not only did the momentum swing to Olympiacos for good, but as it would turn out, the 9 points scored in those minutes would be the final margin in the game.
As important to the turnaround as the points were, the fact that the Reds peppered that stretch with great hustle plays got the fans excited, too. It started with a Vassilis Spanoulis-to-Khem Birch alley-oop slam. Efes’s star center Bryant Dunston exited the game shortly thereafter with 4 fouls and then Birch used a put-back slam to give Olympiacos the lead. Kostas Papanikolaou capped the run with a steal and dunk. By then the fans were in a frenzy and Efes appeared stunned. On three occasions Efes would get back to within a single point, however it could not get over the hump and Olympiacos’s improved defensive effort in the second half proved decisive.
The importance of that three-minute stretch was something that both coaches later agreed to be a determining factor in the outcome. “We had bad production in the second period, when we scored 12 points and that affected our defense; we allowed easy points to Efes. They scored 41 points total in the first half,”Ioannis Sfairopoulos said later. “It was very important at halftime that we discussed this with the players and I tried to calm them down on one side and on the other to encourage them to be more aggressive on defense. I think the beginning of the second half was important because we saw a great effort defensively, we stole some balls, we scored easy baskets and we got immediately in the first two, three minutes a lead…. In general in the second half we played better defense, we were tougher. They scored 37 points and we scored 50. “
”I think we played very good in the first two quarters, we had an advantage and felt good on the court,” Efes coach Velimir Perasovic said. “For me the beginning of the third quarter was the key, when we started very bad.”
Another key for Olympiacos was its improved shooting over the final third of the game. After shooting 2 for 11 from downtown (18.2%) in the first 27, Olympiacos was 4 for 8 (40%) the rest of the way. That began with an Ioannis Papapetrou three to create breathing room after Brandon Paul hit twice from behind the arc to make it 54-53. When Papapetrou scored again from deep, the difference was 62-53. And though Efes continued to fight its way back, Olympiacos was calmer and better on offense and more aggressive on defense. And that combination is very dangerous for any opponent.