Two of the most storied clubs in European basketball with a pair of legendary coaches will clash for the 2009 Euroleague crown on Sunday night when Panathinaikos meets CSKA Moscow at o2 World in Berlin in a rematch of the classis 2007 title game. Panathinaikos won its fourth Euroleague championship that night, 93-91, on its home floor in Athens. Nine players from that game are back this time – including CSKA forward Ramunas Siskauskas, who played for Panathinaikos then. CSKA bounced back last season to win its sixth Euroleague title. Both teams escaped serious challenges in the semifinals to return to the final. CSKA ousted Regal FC Barcelona 78-82 thanks to Siskauskas, who scored 18 of his career-high 29 points in the fourth quarter. Panathinaikos edged Olympiacos Piraeus 82-84 with Nikola Pekovic, Mike Batiste, Vassilis Spanoulis and Sarunas Jasikevicius all scoring between 18 and 20 points.
Both teams have star-studded backcourts, featuring a total of three former Final Four MVPs, five current or former All-Euroleague picks and an Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner between. Depth, however, is on Panathinaikos’s side, with seven perimeter players in the rotation, compared to five for CSKA. The champs’ starting backcourt of J.R. Holden and Langdon both played major minutes in the final and CSKA may need more contributions from Zoran Planinic and Nikos Zisis in the final. CSKA’s best defensive player, Viktor Khryapa, can play both forward spots and defend shooting guards, giving the coach Messina the option of a bigger lineup while resting Siskauskas. For Panathinaikos, Spanoulis is the only player to have seen major minutes in the semifinals, while Jasikevicius and Drew Nicholas should be fresh. Defensive ace Dimitris Diamantidis, who did not have his best game against Olympiacos and was practically a non-factor offensively (0 points, 2 assists), will surely be motivated and has shown he can rise to the occasion in big games in the past. Starting small forward Stratos Perperoglou will have a major challenge against Siskauskas, while Dusan Kecman and Nikos Hatzivrettas give coach Obradovic extra options to shake things up.
Panathinaikos and CSKA feature four main men they rely on in the paint, though CSKA used rookie Sasha Kaun for big minutes in the first half on Friday. The duo of Pekovic and Mike Batiste provide power inside for the Greens and CSKA will look to Matjaz Smodis and Khryapa to match up with them. Antonis Fotsis and Kostas Tsartsaris balance Pekovic and Batiste with their shooting, something Terence Morris and Erazem Lorbek try to do for CSKA. The addition of Kaun to the CSKA rotation will provide an extra body and extra fouls to bang inside against the Greens’ bigs. Fotsis’s shooting will be crucial to opening up space for his frontcourt mates, while the ability of Morris and Khryapa to contribute on both ends of the floor is important for CSKA to keep the game at its pace.
The two winningest coaches in European basketball go head to head for the 20th time and the third time in the Euroleague title game. Obradovic has more Euroleague titles than anyone in history – six – while Messina’s four crowns tie him for second place on that list. Messina’s teams are best-known for their defense. Obradovic has Panathinaikos eager to push the ball and score. There is little doubt that the coaches will have their teams fully prepared for the stage and for the opponent, perhaps with a surprise or two up their sleeve to challenge their counterparts.
The Panathinaikos big guys, Pekovic and Batiste, combined for 39 points on 14-for-19 shooting (73.7%) plus 8 rebounds and 10 fouls drawn on Friday. The Greens are 7-2 when both players have scored in double figures in a game this season and 5-1 when they have totaled at least 30. CSKA is also quite dependant on its big men. The chaps are 12-2 this season when Erazem Lorbek has scored in double figures and have won all 10 games they have played in which Terence Morris recorded a blocked shot.
Keys to victory:
To quote what so many of the players have said, this game will come down to small details. CSKA must try to disrupt Panathinaikos’s inside attack and will need at least one of its big men to stand out on defense. Panathinaikos will try to force a faster pace, hoping to get CSKA to take poor shots and commit turnovers.
- Center Nikola Pekovic has scored in double figures in each of his last eight Euroleague games.
- Guard Dimitris Diamantidis is the shortest player (1.96 meters) to appear in the top 20 on the Euroleague Basketball career blocked shots charts. He is tied for 15th with 72 blocks.
- Diamantidis and backcourt mate Sarunas Jasikevicius are both former Final Four MVPs. Diamantidis received the award in 2007 when Panathinaikos won in Athens and Saras was MVP in Moscow in 2005 with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Both times their teams defeated CSKA in the Final Four.
- The longest game of Diamantidis’s Euroleague career came against CSKA in the 2005 Final Four third place game. The guard played 43 minutes of Panathinaikos’s 91-94 overtime win, recording 15 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Mike Batiste posted 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Greens.
- Jasikevicius recorded 18 points and 6 assists in his last game against CSKA, a 93-85 win for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2004 semifinals in Tel Aviv.
- Guard Vassilis Spanoulis achieved his Euroleague career best in scoring in a November 2005 game against CSKA. Spanoulis scored 28 points with just a single missed shot and dished 3 assists in a 92-82 win in Athens.
- Guard Nikos Hatzivrettas spent the 2002-03 season playing for CSKA. He averaged 12 points in 22 Euroleague games helping the club reach the first of its seven consecutive Final Four berths. They also won the Russian championship that year.
- Guard Drew Nicholas and CSKA forward Ramunas Siskauskas were teammates at Bennetton Treviso during the 2005-06 season. Nicholas led the Euroleague in scoring that season and together they helped Benetton win the Italian League championship.
- 2008 Euroleague MVP Ramunas Siskauskas won the Euroleague title in 2007 with Panathinaikos, beating CSKA in the final. He scored 20 points and dished 5 assists in the title game.
- Siskauskas saw a consecutive free throw streak of 40 made end in the semifinals when he went 9 for 10.
- Siskauskas finished with a career-high 29 points in the semifinals against Barcelona on Friday.
- Trajan Langdon was the 2008 Euroleague Basketball Final Four MVP after scoring 21 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in the title game.
- Guard Nikos Zisis has been a teammate of five current Panathinaikos players on the Greek national team, with whom he won the gold medal at the 2005 European Championships and the silver medal at the 2006 World Championship.
- CSKA is the top three-point shooting team in the Euroleague this season at 40.7%
- CSKA committed the fewest turnovers in the Euroleague this season with an average of just 10.8 per game.