By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
“In the locker room the climate is excellent, apart from the basketball playing, the biggest achievement is that we respect each other. We feel like a family and we remain a family. We came here as an outsider. We came back with our backs against the wall many times. In the end there was a lot of talk about our struggles but it made us become stronger together.” – Vassilis Spanoulis
‘This is a team with heart, a team with character…this team is a god of war.” – Kostas Papanikolaou
“Our secret is cohesion, all of us are united, I will repeat it, it’s our cohesion, we are a big example of all of Greece that we as Greeks can make miracles happen if we work together. We have comeback many times this season and if something repeats it’s self it is history. We have players with character, they have soul as we say it” – Coach Bartzokas
It’s something you can’t describe. Heart. A trust in your teammates. Going through experiences together that make you stronger in only the way a team can. Coming back is a skill, a skill Olympiacos has mastered.
On Sunday evening in London the Greek team made history as they won Championship number two in their back to back championships in a 100-88 win over Real Madrid. But down 17 in the first half, similar to being down by 19 to CSKA Moscow last year, there was never a sense of “this is over”. A team that believes in each other is one that never lets pessimism exist.
It all started with the shot clocking winding down in the second quarter and Pero Antic with the ball. 5, 4, 3, 2, and as Antic dangles between the three point line and the sideline you can tell he feels a sense of confidence. Being pushed up against the ropes and bouncing back is a place Olympiacos players feel comfortable. So even off balance, down 17 in the biggest game of the season, Antic still shoots calmly and directly as he swishes a three pointer. Then everything starts to roll, all Olympiacos needed was one push.
The veteran Stratos Perperoglou nailed two three pointers and all of sudden even though they were down, it felt like Olympiacos was about to have the game in hand.
Acie Law put on an amazing performance. Early in the game he was patient, waiting for his opportunity to emerge. Law last season was sometimes too passive, too laid back in his approach. This year with a bigger role he attacked more, became more aggressive. It was the perfect storm from him on Sunday as he tried to get others involved early and he kept the ship afloat. Then once Real Madrid started showing a hint of weakness, he attacked. Once he got the ball off an outlet pass, boom, he was headed on the break. Whirling and swerving around Olympiacos defenders on his way to the hoop, no one could stay in front of him.
Vassilis Spanoulis, the MVP of the Final Four, didn’t make a shot in the first half and had a negative ten ranking. But even when their star was down, Spanoulis had his teammates to pick him up and the confidence in each other that once he got hot, this game would be over.
They didn’t have to wait long.
The second half started out in a fire storm. Spanoulis has been on this stage many times before, a two-time Final Four MVP before this. He popped a pull-up jumper. Then another. And then another. He was hot and Olympiacos was roaring forward.
Spanoulis was named the MVP of the weekend but the people’s MVP was Kyle Hines. Hines had a dominant weekend and everything he did went beyond the box score. When the game became a see-saw affair, Olympiacos turned it over and it seemed Rudy Fernandez would waltz in for an easy fast break dunk. Then you saw him, streaking, bulldozing, galloping down court. Kyle was coming and he wasn’t leaving unless blood was spilled. As Fernandez pass off to Nikola Mirotic and he went airborne so did Hines, and in a collision between hand and ball Hines stuffed the ball back down to earth. Not today, not with a championship on the line. Just when Real thought they’d be getting an easy basket, Hines let them know that there would be nothing easy about the rest of this game.
As Coach Bartzokas said, this team has soul. A soul that can’t give up. Playing with undersized big men, a star who had one of his worst halfs of the season, and down by double figures to what most call the most talented team in Europe, they didn’t blink. Trying to describe the ability to comeback is no easy task but forever on we don’t need to. Olympiacos changed the thoughts of many in European basketball these last two years and when trying to think of adjectives, emotions, or tactical things to describe how to comeback in a basketball game, the answer will now be simple. Watch Olympiacos. Because with the team from Pireaus it’s not a “comeback” anymore, it’s an opportunity to come together.