Olympiacos Piraeus will look to advance to the Final Four for the first time in nearly a decade when it hosts CSKA Moscow on Thursday in Game 2 of their best-of-three Euroleague Basketball Quarterfinal Playoffs series at the Peace and Friendship Arena in Athens, Greece. The Reds stunned CSKA on a Lynn Greer buzzer-beater to win Game 1 74-76 on Tuesday in Moscow. Now Olympiacos, which last played in the Final Four in 1999 in Munich, is one game from another trip to basketball’s promised land. However to do so, head coach Panagiotis Giannakis’s squad must knock off a Euroleague giant. CSKA has been to the Final Four every season since 2003, won the title in Prague in 2006 and was the runner-up last season in Athens. Now with their backs to the wall, head coach Ettore Messina’s men will look to prove their mettle one more time and the first task at hand is to win in Athens and force a Game 3 that would take place in the Russian capital next week. There were a number of Game 1 heroes for the Reds, but none was bigger than Greer, who in addition to his game-winner over Nikos Zisis, finished with 19 points and 6 assists. Qyntel Woods scored 20 points and spent time frustrating reigning Euroleague MVP Theodoros Papaloukas with strong one-on-one defense in his best output in months and Rod Blakney was efficient at the point guard spot to lead Olympiacos, which made 10 of 20 three-pointers. Giannakis was without the recently released Marc Jackson for the first time all season, but the move seemed to have no negative impact on the team. However CSKA was unable to take advantage of Jackson’s absence, in part because its big man, Tomas Van den Spiegel, was also sidelined with an ankle problem. Matjaz Smodis, in his best game since returning from injury, paced CSKA with 21 and David Andersen added 15. Despite the loss, CSKA can be pleased with the character it showed in storming back from a double-digit fourth quarter deficit just to tie the game. The visitors also have some reasons to feel comfortable in Athens. Among them, Papaloukas is an Athenian and once played for Olympiacos, Nikos Zisis played for AEK Athens and Ramunas Siskauskas played for Red-rival Panathinaikos last season. In addition to the home-court advantage, the Reds may be the hottest team in the Euroleague right now with a five-game winning streak. Some keys for Game 2 for Giannakis are getting another strong performance from the somewhat inconsistent Woods, keeping Greer fresh against CSKA’s physical defense just 48 hours after the first game and finding more production from the bench – aside from Ioannis Bouroussis, the Reds’ reserves had 2 points and 8 rebounds in 41 minutes in Game 1. Meanwhile CSKA’s focus for Game 2 needs to be on its own transition defense, finding a solution to free Papaloukas from Woods and of course on the mental side for preparing for a situation it’s not used to. With Van den Spiegel hopeful to play, CSKA has all the tools to bounce back, making Game 2 a can’t-miss basketball event for any true fan.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008