Go ahead and grab a lead in a Euroleague final against Olympiacos. Go on. I dare you.
How many points do you want? Nineteen? CSKA Moscow had that last year and couldn’t hold it in Istanbul.
Olympiacos spotted Real Madrid 17 after scoring ten in the first quarter today and allowing 27. Three quarters and 90 points later, the Reds were 100-88 winners over the Spaniards, and back-to-back Euroleague champions behind 22 points from Euroleague MVP Vassilis Spanoulis–all in the second half–and 20 more from Acie Law.
After all of my blather about Olympiacos’ ability to play with the big boys inside, Real Madrid came out and reminded us why being tall is often beneficial on a basketball court. Mirza Begic absolutely shut down the paint, swatting four shots in a matter of minutes and providing all the defense Madrid needed as their scorers got to work.
The post advantage continued to swing the Spaniards’ way early, as Nikola Mirotic spun past Printezis and laid it in on the baseline without sufficient resistance from Georgios; then Carlos Suarez isolated Papanikolaou on the wing and backed him rather easily to the front of the rim before scoring a pair.
At the end of the first quarter Madrid led 27-10, a daunting lead, especially in the Finals. But I imagine it’s a bit easier to get yourselves going again if you’d come from 19 points down in the same situation a year earlier.
The Reds started the second quarter on an 8-0 run keyed by a Pero Antic sequence that included a step back three as the shot clock expired, then a defensive stand that forced a turnover followed immediately by a gorgeous bounce pass to Hines along the baseline which Kyle deposited for a slam.
Two big threes from Stratos Perperoglou continued to eat into the lead as Madrid didn’t hit a bucket for six minutes to start the period.
Madrid’s second quarter did have at least one highlight, as Rudy drove and found Reyes at the free throw line, whose touch pass set up Marcus Slaughter for an emphatic oop.
It was a thing of beauty. John Wooden meets NBA Street, Vol II.
Acie Law hit a three to cut the lead to 35-31 with 2:10 left and Madrid was still up 41-37 at the break.
You might’ve noticed that the first half’s blog was Vassilis-less. That’s because the MVP stayed just as cold as he was against Barcelona in the first game and went scoreless.
Having ridden his teammates’ second quarter surge back to within striking distance, Spanoulis started to make up for his absence. Back-to-back threes from Vassilis gave Olympiacos its first lead (45-43) since the game’s first bucket. After Madrid tied it at 45, Spanoulis pulled another contested look to put the Reds up 48-45.
By the end of the third quarter, Rodriguez had tied the game at 61, but every time Madrid threatened to narrow the gap, the Reds had someone ready to make a big play.
In the fourth, a Shermadini-Spanoulis double team forced Llull to dribble off of his foot and into the backcourt with the score at 67-62 and Spanoulis capitalized on the turnover with another three to make it 70-62.
Sloukas drilled one to put the lead at 75-68 and then Acie Law took over, pushing the ball off missed shots and attacking a flat-footed Madrid defense. More often than not that meant getting to the line, where Law made 11-of-13 for a big chunk of his season-high 20 points.
In the last couple of minutes, it was again Rodriguez making Madrid’s final push with a lay-up and a baseline jumper to bring Madrid back within eight.
No matter. The MVP caught one from damn near 30 feet with the shot clock expiring and drained it. He drained any chances of a Madrid comeback along with it, and the arena erupted into a chant.
Celebration: 0n. Olympiacos was well on their way to their second straight championship behind 22 points from Spanoulis (five threes, seven free throws), 20 from Law and another mammoth effort from Hines (12 points, mostly in the first half).
Three other Reds touched double figures: Sloukas (11), Antic (10) and Perperoglou (10).
The final score was 100-88, and it was the first time these Reds have reached 100 all year. Considering these Greeks’ propensity to surprise, it’s rather fitting that they hit the century mark on a day they scored just 10 points in the first quarter.
Here’s one of the heroes Acie Law, talking to Sam Meyerkopf of Euroleague Adventures after the game:
For Madrid, Fernandez scored 21 on the day, Rodriguez had 17 and Llull had 14, but Madrid struggled to get their big guys enough looks inside against Olympiacos’ helter-skelter defense and paid the price.
Reyes posted four points and took just two shots, Slaughter made all four of his attempts—two alley-oops in there—and Begic was 3-of-3 himself. Mirotic was a disappointment after a quick start and finished up with just seven.
Last season Olympiacos slashed budget and brought in under proven free agents (Matt Howard and Kalin Lucas, anybody?), only to correct themselves midseason with the additions of Joey Dorsey and Acie Law. Then Dusan Ivkovic blended them into one of the more entertaining and unlikely championship teams we’ve seen in some time as they stunned Barcelona, Moscow and the city of Istanbul en route to the Continental Trophy.
Then Bartzokas took that core of guys, swapped Joey Dorsey out for Josh Powell, and still beat a bunch of bigger, more powerful teams with nicer résumés to do it again.
So this Summer we will overanalyze their every move. We will debate the merits of holding a core intact versus stirring the pot, adding new pieces, keeping it fresh. And when they lose a game or two, we will rummage through the numbers to find any advanced metric we can to bottle up and sell as a weakness.
And after coming back from 19 down in last year’s final and 17 tonight, it’s easy to cast Olympiacos as merely the scrappy survivors. But anyone who watched Olympiacos’ players interact and grow this season knows that this weekend was about more than grit and sweaty clichés.
These guys weren’t only Europe’s most resilient team, they were Europe’s best team.
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