Can Panathinaikos come back and snap Olympiacos’ streak? (And if they don’t, what next?)

As expected, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos are fighting for another Greek Basket League championship. Since the 1992-1993 season, either Panathinaikos or Olympiacos has been crowned champion of Greece, with the lone exception being in 2001-2002 when AEK won it. In that time span, Olympiacos has won the GBL title 8 times, while PAO has won it 15 times, with a string of dominance coming from 1998-2011 where they were crowned champions of Greece 13 times in 14 seasons (this was when legendary coach Zeljko Obradovic was coaching the Athenian squad).

However, Olympiacos has been the stronger team as of late, as the Red and White won the past two GBL titles, and currently holds a 2-1 series lead after a 64-62 comeback win over their Athenian rival in Piraeus. In the third game of the series (the GBL does a 1-1 home-away alternating format over a five-game series), PAO made a valiant effort to steal the road win in Piraeus, as they led with less than 3 minutes in the game. However, some big free throws by Serbian center Nikola Milutinov, and some key stops by Olympiacos ended up saving the game for home team in a physical, wild and intense contest, typical of what is expected in this Greek basketball rivalry. As you can see in the highlights below, this game was full of physicality, high emotions, and big moments; exactly what should be expected from a championship matchup.

The series in the two previous games have followed the same format: Olympiacos won game 1 at home in a 63-58 slugfest, while PAO won in OAKA 84-80 in a bit more faster-paced, offensive-oriented contest. It is quite clear how both teams needs to play in order to capture the GBL title: PAO needs to settle in their offense, shoot well, and push for more offensive opportunities through steals, turnovers and increasing the pace; Olympiacos wants to ugly it up, use their physical frontcourt to establish the tone, and open up their offense through the pick and roll.

In games 1 and 3, Olympiacos got to play their style. In game 2, it was PAO who dictated how the game was to be played. Thus, it’s not surprising the series sits at 2-1 in the favor of Olympiacos. And with home court advantage in this series, the signs may not be good for PAO, especially considering the lost opportunity in game 3.


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For Olympiacos, a third-straight GBL title would be a nice little consolation prize after falling short in the Euroleague Final Four championship game in Istanbul. A nice development has been from Milutinov, who has emerged as Olympiacos’ go-to post player this series. Khem Birch, who has been the glue to Olympiacos’ defense this year, has gradually faded out this series, as Patric Young, through his physicality and hustle buckets, has usurped Birch’s minutes in the rotation. In game 3, Young played 11 minutes and had 7 points, while Birch played only 3 (and only had 1 point).

As for Milutinov, despite being only 22 years old, he has emerged as Olympiacos’ second-best frontcourt player (behind only Georgios Printezis) and practically saved the game for Olympiacos.  In 25 minutes of play, he scored 14 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and posted a PIR of 20, which was a game-high. Furthermore, Milutinov was a key reason why PAO struggled to score in the paint, as they shot only 12-32 from 2 point shots, and took almost as many 3 point shots as 2 pointers (27 3-pt attempts). And lastly, Milutinov and the Olympiacos frontcourt made it difficult on Chris Singleton and James Gist, who posted PIR totals of 5 and negative-1, respectively in game 3.

How PAO can handle the Olympiacos frontcourt in game 4 (and perhaps game 5 if they win in OAKA while facing elimination) will be a key factor in whether or not Xavi Pascual’s squad can pull of the comeback. Because, when it comes to the perimeter, PAO probably holds the edge. Vassilis Spanoulis hasn’t been a 100 percent this series, as he sat game 2, and was held relatively in check in game 3 with only 5 points and a PIR of 7. Spanoulis and other perimeter players such as Evangelos Mantzaris, Thomas Zevgaras, Erick Green and Ioannis Papapetrou have showed trouble at times trying to slow PAO’s perimeter offense. After a relatively quiet game 1, Nick Calathes has been a consistent machine, helping PAO in other categories than just scoring. KC Rivers had a big game 1 where he scored 16 points. Mike James has been the kind of explosive guard that has not only given PAO a boost off the bench, but has given the Olympiacos defense fits. And they have gotten some good contributions from Nikos Pappas, who parlayed a 16 point, 20 PIR performance in game 2 to a starting role in game 3, and Kenny Gabriel, a combo forward who stretches out Olympiacos, and provides PAO with some spot up shooting as well as defensive versatility.

When PAO gets out, pushes the ball, or is able to get the ball moving quickly out of their sets, they look like a championship team. But, as Olympiacos has done to many teams this year both in the Greek Basket League, when things get physical, the PAO offense stagnates, and things tend to result into poor, low-percentage ISO situations. That is evidenced in the box score, as Olympiacos has won the assist battle every game in this series by far, a sign that Olympiacos is playing better team basketball on the offensive end than their opponent. If PAO wants to win, that differential has to be closer, and they need to get into their offense quicker to make it happen. Too many times, PAO wastes time off the clock trying to get in their sets, and it often works to their detriment, resulting in bad or rushed shots or forced ISO situations late in the shot clock.

One question that could determine whether or not PAO can keep this series alive is whether or not Ioannis Bourousis will be able to play. Bourousis went down hard with an injury in game 3 and did not return, only logging 14 minutes of play. Maybe Pascual was just trying to be safe, but Bourousis is the only player with the size, physicality and skill to match up well against the Olympiacos bigs. “Small ball” with Singleton and Gist has done okay at times, as it allows PAO to push the pace a little bit more and stretches out the Olympiacos defense, thus opening up more lanes for PAO offensively. However, they struggle to match with the muscle of Milutinov-Young-and Birch in the paint, and they don’t offer Bourousis’ low-post scoring ability as well. If Bourousis is out in game 4, that could be the difference in terms of Olympiacos capturing another title.


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Olympiacos and PAO are two teams in different situations, despite the fact that they remain (and will remain) at the top of the Greek basketball world. Olympiacos has been the model of consistency in GBL and Euroleague play. They have been a team of continuity, as Ioannis Sfairopoulos has been the coach since 2014, and they have surrounded star players Spanoulis and Printezis with similar player each and every year. Yes, Olympiacos will probably lose some players from this Euroleague runner-up squad over the summer (Milutinov is now suddenly a hot prospect, and with the Spurs owning his rights, they may bring him over if they can negotiate a buy-out). But, Olympiacos will find the right replacements who will fit into Sfairopoulos’ system and the GBL and Euroleague success will keep on humming for the Red and White.

As for PAO, they are at a bit of crossroads in terms of where they go in terms of building their team for 2017-2018. There’s no question that this season was for the most part successful. Despite injury issues, an early coaching change, and some roster shakeups (Alessandro Gentile being the prime one), they finished 4th in the Euroleague with a 19-11 record, and finished with a 25-1 regular season mark in the GBL, all sterling accomplishments. But then again, this is PAO. For these fans and management, only championships are acceptable, nothing less. That was on full display in the Euroleague playoffs after the club got swept by Fenerbahce in game 3 in Istanbul, as team president Dimitrios Giannakopoulos made the team take the bus back from Istanbul to Athens rather than travel back by plane. The expectations are extremely high for this team considering the money they spend on payroll, and if PAO falls to their hated rival once again, it is expected that more changes will be made to this roster over the summer.

That being said, one has to wonder if the bus incident will have lasting effects on this PAO squad this offseason. Four players (Antonis Fotsis, Kenny Gabriel, Chris Singleton and Mike James) refused to get on the bus, and the effects are still somewhat felt from the incident. Fotsis is no longer on the team, and Gabriel, Singleton, and James all could leave this off-season, opting for a new basketball home without the headaches caused by ownership. And if they do leave, one can imagine that the “recommendations” from these three to other American players about playing for PAO management will probably be “less than stellar”.

So, it will be an interesting dilemma for PAO this summer. Of course, a championship could change all that. If PAO pulls off the comeback and wins the GBL title, maybe everybody is back, and they can build on this for next season, with a healthy James and Gist available from the start rather than in the last third of the season. Maybe Pascual will have a full offseason and get this club to fully understand and buy into his philosophy in the preseason rather than on-the-fly. PAO has the money. It has the fanbase. And in reality it has the players and coach. Management and ownership just need to trust in these factors to allow this club to be successful.

A GBL title would help PAO ownership be more patient, more trusting. But another loss? Another defeat to the Red and White from Piraeus? Another image of Kill Bill holding up the GBL trophy?

Well, we’ve seen what happened before in Istanbul…who knows what could happen if PAO loses in Athens in Game 4.

 

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13 thoughts on “Can Panathinaikos come back and snap Olympiacos’ streak? (And if they don’t, what next?)

  1. Πάτε καλά; June 6, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    No, he can’t. Perhaps IF the referees were KIND enough to do their job and let him win in game 3, YES he could have taken the championship. Nonetheless, that was not the case: V-Span continued to walk extra steps with the referees being in front of him, Printezis decided to imitate Battista from Raw in the last offence of PAO and we saw another beautiful masterpiece from the deep red state. As for the ….defence of OSFP, you said it yourself: it gets things…physical.

    Of couse, someone will not read these in Eurohoops from Varlas (rumour has it that Angelopouloi paid for his site), someone will not read to the sdna.gr, you will just have to find the videos by yourself.

    Leaving aside the hooligans (note that after embarrassing incidents from both sides, only the monkeys in the harbour continue to behave like apes), it just amazing the protection this team has from the state. At one point I am actually enjoying it: our owner, DPG, prefers to post images from Godfather and Weapons in Instagram than actually taking ANY F@$# measures to protect the team. A lesson to be learnt here, that when you deal with uneducated, far-right (to nazi) sympathisers whose profession is usually….public employee (the typical fan base of osfp), you cannot be polite or civilised.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pierre Marie Corbacho June 7, 2017 / 3:22 pm

      I have noticed the physical play. I thought the tackles by Printezis on Singleton was kind of bullshit. I appreciate physical play, but straight up tackling a dude and getting nothing called is ridiculous. I imagine the calls will fall back in favor of PAO in game 4 at home, but it makes you worry about Game 5, which you know the refs will be even less prone to call stuff in such a pressure-packed final.

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      • Πάτε καλά; June 7, 2017 / 3:42 pm

        Baah, nothing similar in our home court. We are dealing with the deep… red state. A lot of money spent on journalists, referees, etc and less money spent on players. And of course, having hooligans on the baseline who threat the referees by yelling “You are not leaving this place if WE LOSE” (true story) is another reason of the famous…bravery attitude the port has.

        In Europe, each team has a fanbase and carries a story. PAO is the team of the rich, educated people of Greece (middle class, bourgeoisie, rich). AEK BC is the team of the poor immigrants who floated Athens without a hope after the disaster of 1922. OSFP was the team of the filthy rich Greek shipowners and their poor (But not innocent) uneducated employees. The latter after the 1980’s got massively hired in the public sector (usually working for the government), had at least 4 presidents on their football team that were accused of felonies (embezzlement, spying for STASI, heroin drugs to note some). Now that the Greek state has stopped hiring (Since they broke it)they became from PASOK’s followers, NAZI sympathisers: note that the area where the majority of OSFP fans are located (around the port), is a place where Golden Dawn votes are at its highest share. IN addition, they cannot claim that their presidents have nothing to do with this:

        When Fyssas died, all arena’s had a banner condemning his assassination by the NAZI’s. All but his team, since the hardcore Ultra’s of OSFP, are mainly the MISFITS, which are…NAZIS (PALAIO FALIRO, all O’s Celtic ).

        That;s the TRUE history of OSFP fans (and not the one who present as “poor lads against the rich Athenians)”: white trash,public parasites who entered the public sector due to an extensive spoil system who brought us to bankrupcy, now nazi sympathisers which CONTROL the state (the majority of prime ministers have been supporters of this filthy team-given the level of corruption our politicians have, no surprise).

        See table (first vertical table Educational level with subcolumns going from lowest to highest), second social class)

        Liked by 1 person

    • Pierre Marie Corbacho June 7, 2017 / 9:06 pm

      This is really interesting info. I do know a lot of OLY fans, and some go against that description (some I just find really passionate and smart basketball people; but again if they’re running blogs and writing constantly they tend to be that regardless of team), but as an outsider to Europe, this information is really fascinating to digest and look at.

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      • Πάτε καλά; June 8, 2017 / 6:22 am

        Pierre Marie, nowadays with OLY fans I have become a “shoot first, ask questions later” guy. You know what is the real tragedy? That friend I had who supported other teams (AEK, PAOK) initially were telling me that I was exaggerating; now they have come to a point where they agree with me. We cannot be all wrong, if everyone is telling you that there is smoke outside there, there must be a f@#$*ng fire….

        Like

      • Pierre Marie Corbacho June 8, 2017 / 4:21 pm

        That’s true haha. Sports culture is a lot different in Europe than America, which is one reason I love European ball, and it seems like in Greece sporting culture reflects a lot of what you see in the normal culture of a city/country, which is fascinating. You see that a little bit in the United States with sports choice, but not so much teams, especially in basketball. In fact, in basketball, I think fan loyalty really pales in comparison to what you see in Europe, as fans flip flop teams depending on who goes where. It’s amazing how many Cavs fans were Heat fans three-to-four years ago.

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  2. Πάτε καλά; June 7, 2017 / 6:39 am

    Enjoy responsible

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pierre Marie Corbacho June 7, 2017 / 3:24 pm

      Thanks for sharing. I didn’t notice the Milutinov physicality, but boy, he is just as bad if not worse than Pritnezis. This is going to be tough because PAO doesn’t have anybody as big to body Milutinov up besides Bourousis and his health is questionable after he left due to injury in game 3. They need Bourousis to add muscle and bang down low with Olympiacos and neutralize them a bit.

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      • Πάτε καλά; June 7, 2017 / 3:44 pm

        What you see is the last minutes, Papanikolaou generally speaking was the worse but during the last minutes, he did not foul that much.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Πάτε καλά; June 7, 2017 / 7:20 pm

    Btw, James in Milano is might not just a rumour, For two consecutive years Milano …shops from PAO (Batista, Raduljica), so James in Milano would be no surprise. As for PAO, rumour has it that we are bringing….K.Langford in his place (personally not excited). We shall see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pierre Marie Corbacho June 7, 2017 / 9:10 pm

      That is a good point. I thought that Raduljica signing was a benefit for you. It was obvious he has been on the decline, and you definitely upgraded with Bourousis over him. I feel James is gone because of the bus incident, as he was 1 of the 4 (I also sense Singleton is; he just doesn’t seem as fired up on the court as he was during the end of the regular Euroleague season; his demeanor seems to be of one who has one foot out the door). Langford would be an interesting addition though I don’t know if he meshes well with this club. He seems to succeed when he’s the primary scorer and you can throw a lot of complementary players around him. He’s very ball dominant and has been in such a system with Kazan the past couple of years. I don’t see him meshing with Calathes or Rivers not to mention in Pascual’s system, who coaches a more methodical and patterned way.

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  4. Πάτε καλά; June 9, 2017 / 3:48 pm

    Meanwhile, V-Span just told Gist “you are an ape” (but you will not read this in Eurohoops). Combine this with the above comments and let the whole situation sink for a while.

    Btw,
    I)
    https://avtonom.org/en/news/interview-representative-fan-associations-gate-13-panathinaikos-athens

    II)
    ps2. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-zR-VWTPl86g/UkJ0txLzrTI/AAAAAAAA09g/w32iwH4-MEI/s1600/o-marinakis-i-xrisi-avgi-kai-to-no-politica-tis-thiras-7.jpg

    In the photo, Marinakis greets the so-called “Haros 7” (=Death 7) fan, chief organiser of the Olympiakos ultras, rank and file member of Golden Dawn (his brother also tried to get elected as a parliament member with this group).
    III)

    This is the flag of misfits: I do not know, do you see any relation with the nazi skull and bone of SS Totenkompf?

    Again: Shoot first first with osfp fans, ask questions later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pierre Marie Corbacho June 10, 2017 / 7:40 pm

      Again, interesting stuff. Really shows the difference in fan culture between America and Europe. Was curious about this from the research I was doing on this: do you think these “politics” are more pronounced in football or basketball? Or is there no difference? I was asking because a lot of what I researched on relates back to football, but I know many “ultras” transition to both sports. I just don’t know if it’s less noticeable to “outsiders” because we focus less on “basketball ultras” than “football” ones because “European” football is just a bigger thing globally. Again, trying to see the whole picture here, and trying to get a better sense of this rivalry and Greek basketball as a whole, as I appreciate the info.

      And yes, I will say that the similarity in those logos is pretty uncomfortable.

      One last question. What’s the fanbase of Aris like? It seems like financial problems really hurt the club. They gained a lot of popularity by people on YouTube for their “fans” pregame chants and antics, but I watched some recent Champions League games and the attendance was a lot more subdued than what I had seen previously. Did the financial issues and Greek economic crisis kind of kill the fanbase? Or was it more basketball-related? After all, after PAO and Olympiacos, you could argue that Aris has the most history out of any Greek basketball club.

      Like

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