A dream scenario for players and fans alike. A do-or-die clash for a ticket to the Final Four. Learn more about how Olympiacos Piraeus and Anadolu Efes Istanbul match up and what else is on the line in Game 5 of the playoffs.
Playoffs at its finest
We are down to the very last game before the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four. The winner of Tuesday night’s clash between Olympiacos Piraeus and Anadolu Efes Istanbul will face CSKA Moscow at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul on May 19. It’s an understatement to say there is a lot at stake on Tuesday night. Olympiacos certainly has the mental advantage, having survived a must-win Game 4 on the road, while Efes has to shake off the feeling that it missed a great opportunity last Friday. Olympiacos also has the advantage in experience, with four current players – Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou and Vangelis Mantzaris – having led the team to a pair of EuroLeague titles in 2012 and 2013, and three of them also played in the 2015 Final Four. Meanwhile, Efes has not played at a Final Four in more than a decade and a half. The Reds’ advantage is also historical, as no road team has ever won Game 5 of the EuroLeague playoffs and Olympiacos rarely loses at home, especially in the playoffs; it just had its 10-game home playoff winning streak broken in Game 2. However, do not count Efes out. It is a team that already proved last week it can win at Peace & Friendship Stadium and if anyone knows how to clinch a playoff series on the road, it is Efes head coach Velimir Perasovic. He is the only coach to win a deciding EuroLeague road playoff game; Perasovic guided Tau Ceramica to a win over Panathinaikos Athens in Game 3 of the best-of-three series in 2006. In addition, when Perasovic’s Laboral Kutxa Vitoria clinched last year’s Final Four ticket, it did so on the road in a playoff sweep of Panathinaikos.
These two teams have faced each other six times this season and each has won three contests. But here’s an interesting fact: Efes finished the regular season averaging 82.1 points, which was the third-best average in the league. During the entire season, heading into the playoffs, the team scored 75 or fewer points on the road only once, when it was defeated 90-66 in Round 2 against Olympiacos. That also marked a season-low in points scored for Efes – until the playoffs. Last week, Efes scored 64 points in a Game 3 win and 62 points in Game 4 loss. It also posted 72 points in a Game 1 loss and 73 points in a Game 2 win. As it stands now, out of Efes’s 10 lowest scoring games this season, six of them have been against Olympiacos, including a 77-69 win in Round 29 of the regular season. All told, Efes has averaged only 69 points per game this season against the Reds’ defense, which, by the way, is tied first for the fewest points allowed (73.5 ppg.). An inability to score against Olympiacos, and Efes’s playoff-low 21.8% three-point shooting, likely means that a low-scoring game against Olympiacos gives this high-scoring Efes squad a better chance to win.
Debuts to remember
This back-and-forth series has had something for everyone, and as much as fans are excited, so are the players. Especially so, knowing that more than half of the players on the two teams had never appeared in a EuroLeague playoff game before. This series marked the first appearance in the playoffs for Efes players Derrick Brown, Jayson Granger, Tyler Honeycutt, Alex Kirk, Maxim Mutaf and Brandon Paul, and as well for Olympiacos players Khem Birch, Patric Young, Erick Green, Nikola Milutinov, Dominic Waters, Ioannis Athinaiou and Vassilis Toliopoulos. Their already memorable playoff debuts will become even more special with Tuesday’s Game 5.
Spanoulis to set playoff three-point mark?
EuroLeague great Vassilis Spanoulis has played in exactly 250 games in the competition, and with his appearance in Game 5 he will move into eighth place on the all-time EuroLeague charts for games played. In this game, with his first succesful free throw Spanoulis will also become the first player with 900 free throws made in EuroLeague history. Players usually say that milestones don’t matter as much to them, at least until the game ends, but if setting one record could actually make the difference within a game, and in this case an entire series, it is the one Spanoulis is on pace to set this Tuesday. So far in this playoff series against Efes he has made 15 three-pointers, including hitting 6 in a Game 2 loss and 5 triples in a Game 4 win. He needs one more three-pointer to tie another EuroLeague great, FC Barcelona Lassa’s Juan Carlos Navarro, for the most three-point shots ever made in a single EuroLeague playoff series. With 2 or more triples, Spanoulis will have that record all for himself, but more importantly, his three-pointers would certainly boost Olympiacos’s chances to win in Game 5.
Rebounding like Dunston
Efes big man Bryant Dunston grabbed 11 rebounds in Game 4, which is tied for the most in a single game so far in the playoffs this season. The other man to do it is Olympiacos Georgios Printezis, who pulled down 11 boards in Game 1. It went somewhat unnoticed in Efes’s Game 4 loss that Dunston had 8 offensive rebounds in that game, which is tied for most in the playoffs since the format was re-introduced in 2004-05 season. Only three other players have done so in the past 12 years – Ante Tomic with FC Barcelona, Felipe Reyes with Real Madrid, and Eurelijus Zukauskas with Ulker. But what those 8 rebounds also meant was that Dunston became the first player in EuroLeague history to pull down 100 offensive rebounds in a season, and he is on the verge of breaking his own EuroLeague record for offensive rebounds in a playoff series. He grabbed 17 offensive rebounds with Olympiacos in 2014 and has 16 through four games in this series.