Euroleague Final Four Preview

1. Spanoulis Not Above A Benching

Quick: who’s leading the Euroleague Playoffs in assists with seven?  Not Rodriguez.  Not Farmar. Not Huertas, and not even Dimitris Diamantidis. Nope, it’s Vassilis Spanoulis. It’s great news that he’s been passing the rock so well, but his seven nightly assists look less appetizing in the harsh light of his meager 8.3 points per game during these playoffs. Yup.  He’s all the way down there at 34th (but still one slot ahead of Diamantidis, which is really all that matters).  Spanoulis’ 3.3 turnovers per playoff game aren’t ideal, but it’s basically in line with his season average (3.4).  The issue is with Spanoulis’ shooting stroke, which at first went cold and now has gone missing.  For the series he is 6-of-19 on twos, a [pitiful/terrible/woeful/insert adjective of choice] 1-of-18 on his threes and only reached double figures in Game Two with 15.  Bartzokas thought so little of Spanoulis’ contributions during Game Four that he put him on the bench in the game’s 34th minute and kept him there until the final horn, even as Olympiacos let a seven-point lead slip away in the final 1:29.  Spanoulis finished the game 0-for-7 with 5 points, but here’s the craziest part to me: in a potentially Final Four clinching playoff game, Vassilis Spanoulis was not a part of Olympiacos’ most-used line-up (that was Law, Sloukas, Papanikolaou, Printezis and Hines).  Shocking, and something that won’t happen again in Game Five.

Update: It’s easy enough to look at the five assists and think Spanoulis’ run as a passer in this series extended to the deciding game, but Vassilis was more or less just playing the attacker like old times, with a dash of veteran calm.  Also, the 13 shot attempts and game-high six drawn fouls (Savanovic also had six) remind us that sitting him in crunch time is a bad decision, no matter how massively mired in a slump he may be.  And as far as Spanoulis’ exclusion from Olympiacos’ most-used lineups, we needn’t worry: he was a part of not only the most-used, but the ten most-used groups that Bartzokas played in Game Five according to the infinitely useful In-The-Game database.

2. Kyle Hines Above and Below Everyone, Simultaneously

Hines’ play all season long has been head-shakingly impressive.  Week in and week out, the 6-foot-5 center proves to Europe that he has the mismatch, and not the other way around.  Hines’ developing handle and low center of gravity make him a tough cover from 8-10 feet on offense, but it’s his ability to switch defensively from a center to a guard with very little drop off that makes him a monster against the pick and roll (a pretty popular play, I hear).   And after a season’s worth of candidates, Kyle’s finally given us the one clip that wholly encompasses what it looks like to have your pick and roll Kyle Hinesed.

That there’s a slight hedge on the screen at the free throw line, followed by a successful recovery on the roll man resulting in an alley-oop swatted off the board.  Beauty.

Update: Whereas Kyle swatted four shots in Game Four, the stout 26-year-old center out of UNC-Greensboro only had one in the final contest. He made sure it wasn’t cheap.  With 2:33 left in the game, Jamon Lucas hop steps into the lane and floats one up with that reliable left hand of his. If it drops, Efes is down only three.  Kyle had other plans, and this is how they came together:

(We can just act like that little run-in with Shipp never happened.)

3. Olympiacos Can’t Keep Efes Off the Glass

The concern leading into last season’s semifinal against Barcelona, and agan in the final with CSKA Moscow, was largely centered around the Reds’ largeness, or lack thereof.  Even after Joey Dorsey had ripped it up in the playoffs and become a defensive lynchpin for Dusan Ivkovic, what Olympiacos lacked in sheer inches (or centimeters) put them at an inherent disadvantage on the boards against Erazem Lorbek, Boniface N’Dong, Sasha Kaun, Nenad Krstic and the others.  Dorsey’s gone now, Hines still hasn’t grown vertically and Josh Powell doesn’t deliver much more than a few competent minutes of Josh Powell.  Giorgi Shermadini is an able-bodied pick and roll finisher whose head rests seven feet above the ground, yet he couldn’t get back in the game after starting, playing seven minutes and then fouling twice. Still, Olympiacos grabbed 10 offensive boards in the 74-73 Game Four loss.  Not that bad, you’re thinking.  Here’s what makes it that bad: Anadolu Efes grabbed 21 offensive boards, and 10 in the fourth quarter alone.  Erden had five, Stanko Barac had four, and even Dusko Savanovic manned up with three angry O-boards.

Update: Olympiacos did a much better job gang rebounding and only lost the overall rebound battle by one, 38-37.  What’s more is the Reds had two more offensive rebounds (10) than Efes (8), so I’d call that a humongous turnaround.  In other Having Trees Helps categories: Olympiacos allowed just one putback, but did let Efes to finish 15 of 20 shots around the rim, again thanks to In-The-Game.  The Reds balanced that out, however, by converting on 16 of 22 on similar tries themselves.  A wash can be a win.

4. …not even Jamon Lucas

Despite Efes’ success with large line-ups throughout the game, Oktay Mahmuti went with a super small quintet down 73-72 and with under 20 seconds left: Jordan Farmar, Kerem Tunceri, Jamon Lucas, Josh Shipp and Dusko Savanovic.  With eight seconds on the clock, Farmar drove and kicked to Shipp for three.  When the shot left his hands, only Farmar and Lucas were inside the arc for a possible offensive board.  Tunceri was on one wing, Savanovic the other.  So with no Erden, no Barac and no Gonlum to scrap inside, Lucas pulled a nasty little swim move on Kostas Sloukas and squared his feet to the rim.  Then this happened.

No guard in today’s Euroleague helps his team in as many ways as Jamon Lucas.  Except for maybe one guy…

Update: Even though Jamon’s threes weren’t falling (0-for-3), he played the good, hearty game that Anadolu Efes has come to rely on: 14 points (7-of-14), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal.  Good decisions and big plays in key moments on offense.  Physicality and ball pressure on defense.  His multi-platform dependability is, on its own, the single greatest catalyst for Anadolu Efes’ run to within a game of the Final Four this season.  Oktay Mahmuti’s transformation of Efes’ defense could not have occurred so swiftly and successfully without an anchor like Lucas to pressure guards into bad decisions and keep them uncomfortable from tip to buzzer.  Lucas’ Game Four tip-in (above) will always be replayed and referred to—especially given the hectic comeback it capped off—as one of the best shots in Euroleague playoff history.

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