And the defending champions haven’t just been losing; they’ve been getting waxed. This week, it was Zalgiris Kaunas doing the waxing, 79-61.
In the team’s first loss it was Jordan Farmar—who we’ll get to in a minute—and Anadolu Efes putting the hurt on Olympiacos 98-72.
During that loss to Efes, the Reds shot under 40 percent as a team, turned it over 14 times and shot just 14 free throws to Efes’ 32. It wasn’t close early, it wasn’t close late and at no point in between did Olympiacos appear competitive.
But this is not cause for organizational upheaval, even if it did drop them from first to fifth in the power rankings. Olympiacos would brush themselves off, head home to Piraeus, Greece and await the arrival of Zalgiris Kaunas, a collection of Lithuanian veterans, recycled Americans and a pair of Croats that were off to one of the EL’s more surprising 2-0 starts.
Olympiacos went into halftime with a 39-33 lead on the Lithuanians in Peace and Friendship Arena, and the champs seemed to be peeling themselves off the mat nicely. What happened next was neither peaceful nor friendly.
Croatian guard Marko Popovic hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter and Zalgiris went from down six to up ten by the start of the fourth. Twenty more points in the final period made it a 79-61 final (46-22 in the second half), and shoved Zalgiris’ record up to a perfect 3-0.
Knicks draft pick Kostas Papanikolaou, whose rights were dealt to Portland, was perfect in last season’s championship game, going 5-of-5 with 18 points, but this season he’s barely made an impact offensively, going 5-of-12 for 13 points.
The 22-year-old small forward had just three in the loss to Zalgiris, which will surely elicit Told ya so’s from the same fans that booed New York’s 48th overall pick roundly on draft night.
Even though Olympiacos returned 10 pieces from its championship run—Papanikolaou among them—it was Zalgiris and its eight new faces that were playing the more cohesive, fluid basketball. Almost like they had played together before. Almost like they were brothers.
They have. And well, two of them are.