Olympiakos were crowned European champions for the first time in 15 years with a stunning 62-61 win over CSKA Moscow in Istanbul.
The Greeks trailed by 19 points in the third quarter but went on a 14-0 run to reignite their hopes and they completed the incredible comeback when Giorgos Printezis hit the winning score with less than a second left to give head coach Dušan Ivković his fifth continental crown.
As a final, it will go down as a classic. And a huge upset, with the unheralded Olympiakos rated rank outsiders at the outset of this weekend’s Final Four.
“This is a great success and a very big moment for us, for the club and for the fans,” Printezis said.
“We are very happy to make them happy after so many years. The last basket did not win the game, we won it during the game. We were focused, we never gave up. And we won.”
The odds were even longer when they trailed 34-20 at the close of a torrid first half that saw CSKA propel themselves into almost total command with Milos Teodosic hitting three quickfire three-pointers to propel the favourites clear after an early stalemate.
It got even worse for the Greeks when they trailed 53-34 with 12 minutes left as Ramunas Siskauskas, Jamont Gordon and Alexy Shved dug an even deeper trench between the teams.
Ivkovic, architect of the last Euro title to come back to Piraeus, kept believing. ”I said: ‘Let’s go guys, you can beat them. It’s our game.’” The improbable became possible.
Vassilis Spanoulis was one of the few holdovers from last season as Olympiakos were decimated by the financial troubles stifling their country but he willed his young re-built team to rise above their problems at home to embarrass their richer opponents.
A 6-0 run trimmed the gap to 53-40 headed into the fourth and the fairytale comeback was duly written, step by step, over a six minute spell when the Russians were held scoreless as eight further points were despatched without reply.
Printezis took the gap into single figures. The deficit was closing my the minute.
With 19.6 seconds left, Teodosic went to the line. He made one, and missed one to take his team-high tally to 15 points.
Kostas Papanikolaou, who had a game-high 18 for Olympiakos, was next to step up for two critical free throws. Both fell.
CSKA, on the ropes, briefly exhaled when Siskauskas was immediately fouled. Surely the former MVP would hold his nerve. Instead, he twice missed the target. It left the door ajar.
Printezis took a pass from Spanoulis and his desperate one-handed floater from the baseline went in the air and dropped in with 0.7 seconds on the clock. The miracle of all miracles had occurred in the Sinan Erdem Arena. There was no chance for CSKA to try for a great escape of their own as a full court inbound pass was deflected into safe oblivion as the buzzer sounded.
“This is just something unbelievable. Unbelievable,” said Spanoulis, the Most Valuable Player of the Final Four.
“We are the Euroleague champions! We are very happy to able to live this moment and never gave up during the season. We fought, came back and won the game. Yes, it’s my second Final Four and I got the MVP twice but the most important thing is that we won the title.”
Andrei Kirilenko, confirmed as the 2012 Euroleague MVP for the 2011-12 season less than 24 hours earlier, had 12 points and 10 rebounds for CSKA.
But for the men from Moscow, there was only the knowledge of what they let slip away.
“This is a very disappointing loss,” said Kirilenko. “I want to congratulate Olympiacos, they played a great game and coming back from 19 points down takes a lot of heart and a lot of guts. I think they did a very good job in the fourth quarter and punished us. I want to say sorry to our fans, who gave us great support. We are as disappointed as they are. We have a great team and it is hard to get it in the first year when the team has just been built.
“Last season, the team did not make it to the Top 16 and we went to the final this season. Of course, we wanted to get the title, but to be honest, Olympiakos outplayed us. They were the better team in the fourth quarter. They started making three-pointers in the third quarter and we didn’t respond. We couldn’t make our offense go; it was stuck at that point. It is very hard to explain what happened. We stopped playing and did not survive until the final whistle.”
Earlier, FC Barcelona defeated Panathinaikos 74-69 for third place with Marcelino Huertas hitting a game-high 21 points for the Catalans who never relinquished control after pulling ahead in the second period.
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