Olympiacos thrashed CSKA Moscow 69-52 to book their place in Sunday’s Euroleague Final, defeating CSKA Moscow in Friday’s first semi at London’s 02 Arena. They’ll now face Real Madrid for the title after they came good late on to oust FC Barcelona.
But the defending champions look ominous. Written off as outsiders at this first-ever British Final Four in the UK, the Greeks were simply superlative at both ends of the floor, limiting the pre-tournament favourites to 7/21 shooting while executing ruthlessly time and again.
It was an 11-3 run in the second quarter which took them clear for good and on their way to a 40-28 half-time lead.
But they denied their rivals a single field goal in the third period to bolt the door shut on any hopes of a rally with Kyle Hines pacing a balance assault by grabbing a team-high 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“We are the best group of guys in Europe,” said Olympiacos centre Pero Antic. “Nobody has better mentality than us. It’s about team, playing together, brotherhood. We’re always there for each other. That’s our secret. We were underdogs for this game, but maybe it was even more motivation.
“We dominated the game almost all 40 minutes. CSKA is a very good team, but we did a great job today stopping them. Last season we won only in the last second, but this season it was a totally different story. But it doesn’t matter. In the Final Four the key is to get a win. By a point or by 20.”
Sonny Weems had 13 points for Moscow but once again, the Russians will come up short in their title bid. Their big names, Nenad Krstic and Milos Teodosic, were anonymous and 13 missed free throws proved fatal.
Pressure came in waves from the Greeks and they dominated inside, out-rebounding CSKA 41-29. More than that, they brought the fight of an underdog. They might have one more surprise to unveil this weekend yet.
CSKA will chase the consolation of third place but they were masters of their own downfall.
“I haven’t seen us play like that in a long time,” Weems admitted. “Some of the guys did not show up, and it is the worst game we played the whole season. Especially in the Final Four, you should not play like this. And we played terrible. If we wanted to play like this, we should have stayed at home. It was terrible.”
El Clasico lives up to billing as Real thwart old rivals
It promises to be quite an encounter when the Athenians take the Madrilenos for the prize.
Felipe Reyes, scoring a team-best 17 points, inspired a late 17-2 burst that eventually saw Real to victory but it looked for so long that another upset was on the cards.
The Spanish aristocrats duelled back and forth, neither able to quite land a fatal blow despite a huge early lead for Barca and then a swing back to Real that took them 40-33 in front at half-time.
The Catalans, lest we forgot, have the best record in Euroleague play this season and despite their injuries and domestic struggles, they kept pushing back when the momentum rolled back towards Los Blancos.
Ante Tomic was outstanding inside, notching 18 points and 12 boards. For long spells, he had little support but Real, somehow, toiled to apply a killer touch.
A 12-0 run, inspired by Marcelo Huertas, sent Barcelona 56-48 clear early in the fourth but beneath a raucous near-capacity crowd, there was little danger that their foes would simply fade away.
Ultimately, their best was enough.
In the same building where he picked up a silver medal at last summer’s Olympic Games, Reyes willed Real forward, cutting the gap to 63-61 before Spanish team-mate Sergio Rodriguez snared a steal to level with four minutes left.
Their burst grew to ten unanswered points and their cushion to 69-63 with 2:08 left.
From that, Barcelona – despite a game-high 19 points from Huertas – could not plot an escape route.
“Even when Barcelona got an 8-point lead, we didn’t fall apart,” Reyes said. “The players that came off the bench and let our starters rest stepped on court with more energy. With the help of everyone – in this case, I had the chance to offer many things on offense, but always with the help of my teammates. It is very important, it means a lot for us to put Madrid back on top.
“I hope that we can do it on Sunday. We face a strong opponent that has proved to be a powerful team, especially on defence. It will not be easy. This is an important win but we haven’t done anything yet, as the big game is on Sunday.”
Barcelona now play CSKA for third but know they missed a golden chance.
“We managed to get the lead in the first quarter but stopped playing defence,” Juan Carlos Navarro admitted. “Madrid got a good lead which allowed them to win the game. The detail that decided the game is that we were not focused in the key moments. We stopped playing defence when we were up by nine and Madrid took off. And against a team like this, if that happens, that’s it.”
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