Road to the Final Four!

Apr 06, 2012 by Print
Final Four 2012, Istanbul_36067At the end of six months' worth of thrills , a quartet of giants is headed to the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul, Turkey. Each has arrived to the biggest weekend in the sport of basketball in its own deserving fashion. F.C. Barcelona Regal had the Euroleague's best record, the only playoffs sweep and the best defense all century. CSKA Moscow dominated all season and finished with the second-best record in the competition. Olympiacos got better with each passing phase and was the only underdog to win its playoff series. And defending champion Panathinaikos survived a classic five-game series to keep alive its dream of a title repeat. Each having built their own road to Istanbul, they all converge on Sinan Erdem Arena from May 11 to 13 to decide which of them will lift the trophy for the 2011-12 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season.

CSKA Moscow
One of the most dominant and exciting teams in recent Euroleague history, CSKA Moscow made an impact on the 2011-12 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season from the start and has been turning heads every step of the way. Head coach Jonas Kazlauskas's men came out of the gate strong led by a brilliant Andrei Kirilenko in the season's opening game at Zalgiris. After winning its next two games by a combined 72 points, CSKA was first tested against the defending champion, Panathinaikos, in Game 4. A 76-78 overtime win in Athens showed CSKA was for real. By the end of the regular season, CSKA not only had the competition's only perfect record, but Kirilenko and Nenad Krstic became the first players in Euroleague history to earn monthly MVP honors in back-to-back months! After a few more wins to start the Top 16 stretched CSKA's winning streak to 14 over two seasons, Galatasaray Medical Park stopped the Muscovites in their tracks with a 68-64 win in Istanbul. CSKA bounced back with a resounding 96-64 demolition of eventual Final Four squad Olympiacos and then rolled to a 65-82 win at Anadolu Efes in the team's first visit to Sinan Erdem Arena, site of the upcoming Final Four. Gescrap BB put up a worthy fight in the playoffs and snatched Game 3, but Kirilenko was in classic form to lead CKSA to a 3-1 series win and on to Istanbul. With a hungry, yet experienced team, CSKA has its eyes set on adding another Euroleague crown to the club's impressive trophy case.
Panathinaikos Athens
The reigning champions are back at the Final Four looking to do the one thing that the Greens have yet to accomplish: successfully defend the Euroleague title. Head coach Zeljko Obradovic has the bulk of the 2011 squad back and it has looked strong all season long. For the most par,t Panathinaikos has strung together several strong games between unexpected losses. After three big wins to start the season, Panathinaikos lost a late lead and fell at home to its future semifinals opponent, CSKA. An unexpected road loss at Brose Baskets followed. However, after a last-second win at Unicaja led by reigning Euroleague MVP Dimitris Diamantidis, the Greens followed with two victories by a combined 53 points. And after a loss in Moscow to CSKA, Panathinaikos finished Group B in second place with a 7-3 record. A blowout win at EA7 Emporio Armani Milan to open the Top 16 was off-set when the champs lost at home to both Unics Kazan and Milan. That set the stage for a decisive Top 16 final in Kazan. In the end, 47 points off the bench overwhelmed Unics to send Panathinaikos into the playoffs with home-court advantage. An overtime loss to Maccabi Electra in Game 2 and a second defeat in Game 3 in Tel Aviv put the champs' back to the wall. However, Panathinaikos rallied to take Game 4 and survived Game 5 behind a mighty Diamantidis performance to secure a spot in the Final Four. Panathinaikos continues to display the heart of a champion and heads to Istanbul holding tight the trophy it won a year ago.
FC Barcelona Regal
F.C. Barcelona Regal is the hottest team entering the 2012 Final Four with not only a 10-game winning streak, but also the competition's best record this season: 18 wins and only 1 defeat. Head coach Xavi Pascual's men have proven to be masters of the art of defense; the 61.5 points allowed per game is on target for a new Euroleague record. Barca has celebrated its offense, too, as Juan Carlos Navarro became the Euroleague's career scoring leader early in the season. The 2010 champion started the season in style by winning each of its first three games by more than 20 points. After surviving its first challenge for a 66-70 road win at Galatasaray Medical Park, Barca stretched its record to 8-0 before falling late at Montepaschi Siena. Nonetheless, it became the Group D champion with an average victory margin of 21.2 points. The job got tougher in the Top 16, where three games against Bennet Cantu and Maccabi Electra were decided by a total of 9 points, but Barca won them all. Barcelona continued its march to Istanbul by becoming the only team to sweep its playoffs series, against Unics Kazan, despite some tough battles and a Game 2 that was tied with a minute to go. A balanced and experienced roster featuring six members of the 2010 title-winning squad may have enough for Barcelona to go all the way.
Olympiacos Basketball
Don’t let its record fool you; Olympiacos Piraeus is tough, talented and riding a hot streak that makes it a dangerous foe heading to the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul. Head coach Dusan Ivkovic, who guided the Reds to their only Euroleague title to date, in 1997, faced a significant challenge with two former Euroleague MVPs and a total of nine players leaving Piraeus over the summer. His rebuilding job didn't stop until two final additions – Acie Law and Joey Dorsey – were made shortly before the Top 16. But that work-in-progress showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season until coming together at the right time. Vassilis Spanoulis was Olympiacos's clear leader and star as the team squeaked through the regular season by winning all its home games en route to a 6-4 record, enough for second place in tough Group A. The Reds lost for the first time at Peace and Friendship Stadium against CSKA in the Top 16 opener, but a 65-67 road win at Anadolu Efes on Kostas Sloukas's game-winning free throws put the Reds back in the playoffs hunt. Then in make-or-break Game 6, Spanoulis starred with 20 points and 8 assists to beat Galatasaray and set up a rematch of the 2011 playoffs against Montepaschi Siena. Olympiacos stole home-court advantage by winning Game 1 in Siena and then Kyle Hines helped the Reds finish things off at home for a 3-1 series victory and a ticket to the Final Four, where Olympiacos is nothing short of an equal contender among this season’s best for the title.