By: Sam Meyerkopf and Rob Scott
Win or go home. Live or die. Final Four or think about next season. The Euroleague gods have granted us a deciding Game 5 between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Electra. Athens will be going bonkers with excitement as the reigning champs attempt to win one more home game to advance to Istanbul. Two teams, two writers, and two different opinions.
Why Maccabi Electra Will Win
By: Sam Meyerkopf
Not too many people thought that we would be here, Game 5 in Athens with Maccabi still having hope of making the Final Four. Not after Panathinaikos crushed the soles of Maccabi in the opening game, making the Israeli squad looking like they didn’t belong in the Playoffs. Maccabi has fought harder and played tougher these last few games, and Panathinaikos barely squeezed out a Game 4 win in Tel Aviv, to bring us here.
Greater ball movement will be key for a Maccabi victory. With only five assists total as a team last game and most of the offense in the second half becoming Keith Langford isolations, David Blatt will have to draw up something better. With a full week to game plan for Panathinaikos, Blatt should come up with much better sets, especially since lead guard Yogev Ohayon is playing so well. The Maccabi perimeter players, most notably Langford, Devin Smith, and Ohayon have been playing so many minutes recently, it really took a toll in Game 4. An entire week to rest will give Maccabi an advantage over Panathinaikos whose deeper depth would of had a larger advantage the sooner Game 5 began.
Ohayon and Langford will be dribble penetrating frequently, creating more open look for guys like David Blu and Smith, who combined to go 0/9 from three land last game, after going 10/19 the previous three matchs. The offense was stiff and stagnant, leading to fade-away jumpers and too much one on one offense for Maccabi players to be effective. Expect everyone to be rested and ready to run at Panathinaikos on Thursday.
The largest x-factor, and this is pretty much the biggest one you can get, is Sofoklis Schortsanitis. He has been putrid this series averaging five points and one rebound, going scoreless last game. A huge game isn’t even necessary for Sofo, just a few spurts of productive minutes. He needs to get some fouls on Mike Batiste, make Panathinaikos players think about him so shooting lanes open up, and for the sake of everyone watching, not turn the ball over at an unprecedented clip (12 turnovers in 4 games). You’re back home in Greece Sofo, you don’t want to disappoint.
Defensively Maccabi needs to slow down the power forward combo of Kostas Kaimakoglou and Steven Smith. Both have caused problems for Maccabi, with Richard Hendrix usually playing with a really small lineup and having to defend the entire paint on his own. If Sofo steps up it will allow Hendrix to slide over to the four spot and create more havoc against the Panathinakos duo. It would even be wise for Blatt to unleash Shawn James at center a little more to allow Hendrix to concentrate on the other power forwards.
If Dimitris Diamantidis has a game like he did in Game 1, Maccabi is toast, but getting hands in shooters faces like Diamantidis and overall guard play has been a strong suit since then for the team from Tel Aviv. Panathinaikos seems to have just enough cracks for Maccabi to attack them, but with Zeljko Obradovic, Diamantidis, and Sarunas Jasikevicius on the other side, Maccabi will have to play some level best basketball to make it to Istanbul.
Why Panathinaikos Will Win
By: Rob Scott
Who will win on Thursday? Panathinaikos or Maccabi Tel Aviv? Hell, I don’t know. Nobody does. But I think it’s more likely Panathinaikos will win, for a number of reasons. One is just an instinctive aversion to betting against a team coached by Zeljko Obradovic, particularly with homecourt advantage. But giving that as the sole reason would be a cop out.
There are much better reasons to suppose Panathinaikos have the upper hand. The main one is that in terms of the depth, talent and balance of the rosters, this series should not be 2-2. The fact that it is, is mostly down to David Blatt’s defensive scheming. His policy of constant switching has more or less taken Panathianikos out of their offensive comfort zone.
But towards the end of Game 4 it felt like this smoke and mirrors solution to Obradovic’s relentless pick and roll attack, might have evaporated. PAO looked frustrated that Mike Batiste was being guarded by the likes of Devin Smith and even Keith Langford and they couldn’t capitalize, but it would be naive to think, with a full week to prepare, that Zeljko won’t have figured out a way to get the ball inside, or if not then to forcefully attack with dribble penetration, wearing down Maccabi’s resistance as the game goes on.
Maccabi has concentrated on preventing outside shots and stopping the ball finding the areas of the floor the defense has ignored – I don’t think that can continue to happen in one of the most challenging environments in basketball. If that turns out to be true, and scoring goes up to the 80s or beyond, I can see PAO running away from Maccabi like they did in Game 1. Only Devin Smith and Ohayon have really shone for Maccabi offensively – Keith Langford has put up points but only in Game 2 was it really useful for the team, Big Sofo has been a non-factor against PAO going back to last year’s final and Obradovic’s collection of giants – Batiste, Vougioukas and Maric know they have the upper hand. All of this adds up to a victory for the home team and a potential final against Olympiakos. Who could possibly root against that?