Euroleague Final Four Preview

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Dimitris Diamantidis, PanathinaikosThough it’s trumpeted as a launchpad for great big shiny heroics, playoff basketball’s cruel truth is that the no-shows have a particular, formative role to play in the maturation–or atrophy–of each series, as well.

Vassilis Spanoulis didn’t hit a single shot then sat for the final six minutes of Olympiacos’ Game Four loss to Anadolu Efes.  Dimitris Diamanatidis went scoreless in Game Four against Barcelona after hitting game winners in the previous two games and Panathinaikos, predictably, lost.  Devin Smith was nowhere to be found against Madrid, usually covered up or by a larger Real Madrid player, and averaged just 4.7 points and an un-Godly -0.3 PIR after posting 13.5 points and a 13.3 PIR during the Top 16.

Since Smith’s Maccabi club had been swept by Real Madrid when I wrote the first version of this piece on Wednesday, he got no shot at a winner-take-all, Game Five scenario.  For Spanoulis and Diamantidis, the opportunity to get back to the Final Four for consecutive seasons still seemed very real despite their rickety individual performances.

By Friday night, however, we had our answer: Barcelona and Olympiacos would join Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow in this year’s Final Four to be held in London. The match-ups will look like this:

CSKA Moscow vs. Olympiacos: Rematch of last year’s final.

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid El Clásico. One of sports’ finest rivalries plucked fresh from the fútbol pitch for our Londoners’ satisfaction.

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Diamantidis had his crack at it first in Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona on Thursday, but was promptly reseated by three first quarter foul calls that really slammed a lid on Panathinaikos’ ability to get the ball to soft spots in Barcelona’s defense.

The Greek guard had himself a rough night from the field and ended with just six points in 29 minutes.  He missed all three of his threes, which turned out to be thematically en pointe: Panathinaikos hit just 1-of-16 threes in this one.

Barcelona used a strong 9 and 6 from Nathan Jawai (in just 17 minutes and on four shots) and 15 semi-classic-looking but ultimately not entirely efficient points from Juan Carlos Navarro and a 19-9 offensive rebounding advantage to get up by double digits early and keep it that way for most of the game.  Even when Panathinaikos threatened late, the Greens were always a made shot or two away from seriously challenging for the lead, and Barcelona won 64-53.

Then Spanoulis took the floor to convince us that Game Four was an aberration which we should quickly expunge from our brains.  But down 36-21 in the second quarter, Olympiacos seemed not long for this Euroleague.

Jordan Farmar looked terrific and had 11 for Efes at the half, and the Turks’ lead was still 41-33 at the intermission.

Buoyed by amazing(ly raucous) fans, Spanoulis steadily wound Olympiacos back into it with seven of his 19 points in the third quarter and Olympiacos came back to win 82-72.  The rather comfortable-sounding margin didn’t feel like a sure-thing until inside a minute, and Josh Shipp almost broke YouTube by putting Kyle Hines on the lower half of a highlight for a change:

This particular bucket brought Efes to within two in the fourth, but Efes couldn’t keep that gap from widening over the next couple of minutes.

Efes had an impactful absence of their own, as first half hero Farmar checked out in the game’s 29th minute and then sat the entire fourth quarter with a knee injury.  Lucas did his damnedest, but could have used some help from Efes’ leading scorer down the stretch.

So here they are, last Wednesday’s playoff musings, revised and updated to reflect the events of Game Five(s).

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