The Greek derby lacked big drama on Friday, which was a credit to the home team's defense. The thrill is almost always there when arch-rivals Olympiacos Piraeus and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens square off, but last night's game was dominated by the Reds from the start. Panathinaikos was hanging in there for a quarter and a half, but Olympiacos pulled away before halftime and never looked back.
"I really believe that the Olympiacos defense pushed us out of our offense almost every possession," Panathinaikos coach Rick Pitino said after that game, which resonated to exactly what he was heard saying to his players during the timeouts. "You have to attack on offense the same way you attack on defense. And we did not tonight."
By game's end, however, it was Olympiacos who dominated the attacking stats, leading Panathinaikos in rebounds (38-32), blocks (5-2) and steals (7-4), with Kostas Papanikolao's 4 matching the team's individual high this season.
Olympiacos's 79-65 win marked just the second time in 11 meetings this century in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague that Olympiacos beat Panathinaikos by a double-digit margin, and the first time it has happened since 2002. The 65 points scored by the Greens is tied for the fewest that Olympiacos has allowed against Panathinaikos this century.
Coach David Blatt had nothing but a praise for his team's defensive effort against the arch-rival. Olympiacos allowed only 25 first-half points, and had the game all but wrapped up, being ahead 49-29 with less than 5 minutes to go in the third quarter before Panathinaikos found some offense with the winner already decided.
"We played great defense," Blatt said. "We forced a high number of three-point shots, more than they normally shoot. We did not put them on the line unnecessarily. I just thought we were really solid on defense, and played great position and fundamental basketball."
Pitino, meanwhile, had much better words about the fantastic atmosphere at Peace and Friendship Stadium on Friday night than about his team's performance.
"The rivalry is great," he said. "I think it is the best thing I have seen in basketball in my 41 years. The best... You have something here that is very, very special. We don't have this [in the United States], anywhere. Nowhere do we have what I've witnessed in the last 48 hours... Both organizations have a great following. I am really privileged to be here and experience it as a basketball coach."