The 2008-09 season culminated in a battle of the big guns, with the two most recent champions going head to head for more glory as Panathinaikos Athens battled with CSKA Moscow. And an intensely contested season which had seen several teams mount credible title challenges came down to an appropriately tight finish as the Greens held on at the buzzer to claim a fourth title in nine years.
Barcelona dominates regular season
The best record in the opening stage of the season belonged to Regal FC Barcelona, which raced through the regular season with a 9-1 record and amassed a huge points differential of +163. That included two comprehensive victories over eventual champion Panathinaikos, 90-66 at home and 76-87 in Athens, as newly appointed Barca coach Xavi Pascual made an impressive start to his senior coaching career. The next-best regular-season record, 8-2, belonged to another pair of Spanish teams, Unicaja Malaga and Tau Ceramica, along with Montepaschi Siena.
Veteran Burke bows out in style
One of the continent's most dominant rebounders around the turn of the century was Pat Burke, who had won the title with Panathinaikos in 2000 and also played for Tau Ceramica and Real Madrid, among others. The 2008-09 season was his last as a pro for the Irish-born big man as he starred for Polish side Asseco Prokom, and he bowed out in style by grabbing a colossal 20 rebounds in a Round 8 regular-season victory over Zalgiris Kaunas. It remains tied for the seventh-highest rebounding tally ever recorded, and Burke played only seven more games in the competition before retiring. Bizarrely, the same game saw Zalgiris's Loren Woods deliver another eye-catching personal performance by blocking 7 shots, third-highest in the competition's history.
El Clásico lights up lopsided Top 16
Barcelona was back in the spotlight in the Top 16, which was showcased by a pair of clásico battles, with Barca paired in the same group as Real Madrid. The bragging rights ended up even, with both teams winning their home games as they both cruised through the group and into the playoffs with 5-1 records. In fact, the Top 16 as a whole was rather uncompetitive, with the identity of all eight playoffs teams decided before the final round of games. CSKA Moscow, Olympiacos Piraeus and Panathinaikos all topped their groups with 5-1 records.
Papaloukas sets assists mark
The league leader in assists was the legendary Theo Papaloukas, who averaged 5.2 assists per game. His best performance of the season came in Game 1 of the playoffs, when he combined 13 points and 13 assists to lead Olympiacos Piraeus to a comfortable home victory over Real Madrid. At the time, that tally of 13 assists was the joint second-highest in a single game, and the joint most achieved in the playoffs – a record that stood until 2015.
Homecourt holds firm in the playoffs
All four of the playoffs series went according to the form book, with the Top 16 group winners making homecourt advantage count by advancing into the Final Four. CSKA was the most comfortable winner, downing Partizan Belgrade 3-0, while Greek giants Olympiacos and Panathinaikos gained 3-1 victories over Real and Montepaschi respectively. The only series to go the distance was an all-Spanish affair, as Barcelona battled back from 1-0 and 2-1 down to overcome Tau Ceramica, winning the decisive Game 5 by a convincing 78-62 margin behind a double-double from young Turkish big man Ersan Ilyasova.
Navarro, Velickovic among award winners
Ahead of the season's conclusion, the annual awards saw Juan Carlos Navarro of Barcelona take the big individual prize as he was named the season MVP for inspiring his team's march to the Final Four. Igor Rakocevic of Tau Ceramica took the Top Scorer Trophy after averaging 18 points per game, while Panathinaikos ace Dimitris Diamantidis was named Best Defender. Partizan Belgrade earned two awards after advancing to the playoffs, with Dusko Vujosevic named Coach of the Year and Novica Velickovic taking the Rising Star Trophy after averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Semifinals serve up thrillers
The Final Four was staged in Berlin at O2 World (now the Mercedes-Benz Arena), and both semifinals were real thrillers. The action started with reigning champ CSKA Moscow overcoming Regal FC Barcelona 82-78, with the Spanish side leading for the first three quarters before Ramunas Siskauskas scored all the points in a 0-11 fourth-quarter run that sent CSKA in front for good. The other semifinal was even closer as Olympiacos and Panathinaikos went head to head for the only Final Four Greek derby this century. After an intense battle, Nikola Pekovic gave Panathinaikos the lead, 82-84, with a minute remaining. Olympiacos had two chances to force overtime at the final buzzer, but Ioannis Bourousis hit the rim and Josh Childress couldn't convert the tip-in, so the Greens advanced to another championship game.
Last-second drama before Greens take title
The semi-finals set the tone for the championship game, which was another closely contested battle concluding with on-the-buzzer drama. It didn't look that way in the first half, which was totally dominated by Panathinaikos as the Greens established a 48-28 interval lead. But CSKA – appearing in its fourth consecutive championship game – rallied after the break behind 11 third-quarter points from Trajan Langdon, and continued its surge in the final period as Ramunas Siskauskas nailed a triple to make it 70-69 with 26 seconds remaining. After a series of free throws CSKA had one last possession and tried to win the game with a three-point attempt from Siskauskas, but his turnaround jumper hit the rim and Panathinaikos prevailed, 73-71. Vassilis Spanoulis was named Final Four MVP after scoring 18 points in the semifinal and 13 in the championship game.