CSKA Moscow arrived in Istanbul as favourites. And even though Panathinaikos showed the heart of a defending Euroleague champion, the Russians booked a spot in Sunday’s final with a 66-64 win.

In a classic semi-final, the Greeks produced an exhilarating start to lead by 14 before their rivals hit back to set up a dogfight for supremacy.

It came down to mistakes, lots of them, and nerve. And ultimately, CSKA survived to progress onward, where they will meet Olympiakos who shocked FC Barcelona 68-64.

Milos Teodosic could effectively have iced the game with 8.4 seconds remaining. But he missed two free throws. And in a scramble for one last shot, Pana could not even make an attempt as their reign ended.

Fittingly, it was Andrei Kirilenko, who had a team-high 17 points and 9 rebounds, who came up with the loose ball as the drama ended.

“We had the hardest time of probably the last six months,” admitted the former NBA All Star.

It could have all been fatally tricky if the Athenians had finished as they started.

They opened with a 16-4 run, their pick and roll slicing through CSKA as if they were butter, and when David Logan broke up court to beat the buzzer at the end of the first, Pana trailed 29-15.

“In the first eight minutes I don’t know what happened but our defence sucked,” Kirilenko admitted.

“There was a lack of focus but in the second quarter we figured it out.”

Panathinaikos was scoreless for almost 3 minutes but a three-pointer by Nick Calathes keep his team 13 points clear.

Midway through the second period, Kirilenko had not even scored. When he did, it lit a fire. A 17-3 run, capped by an open three-pointer from Russia’s superstar levelled at 32-32 with 1:17 left in the half before Pana, utterly stunned, grabbed a 34-32 lead at the break.

The Greeks did not fold. Another three-pointer from Kirilenko gives CSKA its first lead when they moved 41-39 ahead in the third and it set the scene for matters to swing back and forth.

Pana were 55-51 in front entering the fourth. They kept ahead but couldn’t quite hold on, even when Sarunas Jasikevicius – who had a game-high 19 points – converted from long-range with 2:21 on the clock.

Alexy Shved missed chance to tie when split a pair from the lie with 1:26 left as CSKA trailed 64-62 but Teodosic came up big to put their team 65-64 in front when he drained a jumper from the corner.

They would never trail again. And in the late scramble, the Red Army marched on as the Greens wilted.

Olympiakos scrap and advance

1997 Euroleague winners Olympiakos will go into the final as underdogs. But no-one will take them lightly after they ground out victory over Barcelona.

The Reds from Piraeus were never supposed to reach this stage, not after scraping into the both the Top 16 round and the play-offs. The Catalan giants, the class of the ACB, had been so impressive. But the role were reversed with Olympiakos surged 8-0 ahead at the outset to gain a momentum which they never truly lost.

Even when Juan Carlos Navarro drew his side level midway through the second at 24-24 before hitting a three-pointer that put Barcelona ahead for the first time, there was no visible switch.

Olympiakos hit seven straight points to sweep into a 33-29 half-time lead. They would not be caught again.

Up 50-45 at the start of the third, they successfully kept Xavi Pascual’s men at bay. Joey Dorsey thundered through the middle. Vassilis Spanoulis was just relentless with a game-high 21 points. .

Navarro tried to spark a response. Barca cut the gap to 63-61 as the last minute approached. Spanoulis was given room to respond. He drained a NBA-distance three.

With the gap back at two, Marcelino Huertas went from broke from long range. His attempt, by contrast, hit the rim.

There was only desperation left. It wasn’t enough as Olympiakos completed the upset.

“We made an unbelievable job,” said Spanoulis. “We gave everything for 40 minutes.”

Euroleague, semi-finals (Istanbul). CSKA Moscow 66 Panathinaikos 64, FC Barcelona 64 Olympiakos 68

Main pic: Ciamillo&Castori/ FIBAE

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