Live from the Palacio de Deportes, Madrid, Spain
It happened again
Vassilis Spanoulis missed his first 10 shots. He made his last four. Every great story needs an arc, for the risen to first fall. The ball left his hands, fell through the net and another legend was created.
How did Olympiacos Win?
It’s one game with some many ebbs and flows that to pin point how a team won can be difficult. But sometimes basketball comes down to certain players making big plays and just simply that. And when we talk about players who make plays, year after year, Final Four after Final Four, there is one name that is always a constant: Vassilis Spanoulis.
Spanoulis was off all game. He couldn’t make a shot or get much separation and his handle was sloppy. Those off-balance step back jump shots were off and his quick drives to the basket were being thwarted by CSKA’s length. After one quarter, no fields goals. After two quarters, no fields goals. After three quarters, no fields goals. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, no fields goals. In the last three minutes and thirty five seconds of the game, three three-pointers and another pull-up jumper.
Olympiacos played sloppy most of the game, with the slashing ability of Georgios Printezis and Ioannis Papapetrou coming up huge offensively. But it was always lingering, when will Kill Bill wake up, when will the guy who takes over, take over.
Then BANG he hits a three with three minutes and thirty five seconds left on the clock and everything falls into place.
Olympiacos closed the game with a very small and quick lineup. They went with the three guards who already have rings on their finger including Evangelos Mantzaris and Kostas Sloukas with Spanoulis. And up front they had two power forwards, Brent Petway and Printezis. As Othello Hunter explained in his pre game interview to ELA, Olympiacos had to utilize their quickness in this game, and they did.
It didn’t matter that they were down nine points mid-way through the fourth quarter, with the floor spaced, Spanoulis went to work. He hit another three to bring Olympiacos almost neck and neck with CSKA, and then crunch time happened. With all the attention on him Spanoulis goes off the dribble with the defense shading him heavily for a three and nails a pull-up jumper with a little over a minute left. That step back off-balance shot he is know for but wasn’t falling in the first 36 minutes of the game was on and Olympiacos had all their MOJO back.
With 30 seconds left and the game tied, everyone in the world knew who was getting the ball. Spanoulis slowly rocked Nando De Colo near mid-court. Tick, tick, tick. Crossover, crossover, crossover. A hunter aiming the focus on his prey, getting ready to go in for the kill. He starts to head to his go-to spot where he has nailed those three shots, the right wing. A couple quick jab steps and he tests De Colo, how far back will he really have to take this one from. And then BAM! BOOM! BINGO! Spanoulis steps back, off balanced and hammers down a three that sends Olympiacos to the Euroleague Championship game and CSKA’s season ends with a clutch play from the one, the only, God. I mean Spanoulis.
How did CSKA Moscow Lose?
It’s easy to point to ghosts, to nerves, to the draining effect of finding the mental energy it must take to survive this kind of game. They lost for a number of reasons - too much ineffective ball-stopping from Milos Teodosic and Sonny Weems; indecision from Coach Dimitris Itoudis as he cycled Teodosic back and forth from the bench in the final three minutes; Losing the ball at halfcourt after Sloukas left the door open with a missed free throw. Itoudis said after the game that we should talk not about the last play but the first 39:55. But mainly they lost because Spanoulis is one of the rare players in world basketball who can dribble out the shot clock with 20,000 people knowing he’ll take the shot, and make it. Vorontsevich and De Colo both played pretty textbook one-on-one defense, left on what has to be the most terrifying island in Euroleague history. Lord of the Flies with only two left standing. Spanoulis going in for the kill has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The frequency of his heroism has become almost cliché.
When CSKA had the upper hand, as they did for more or less three quarters without ever pulling into a comfortable lead, the word to describe it was ‘bigness’ - a combination of length, height and shrinking the court, filling passing lanes and trapping Olympiacos ball handlers in places they didn’t want to be. They suffocated Spanoulis on the drive, forcing him into bodies that sealed off the paint. They forced passes into spots where Aaron Jackson was waiting, and he picked up a Final Four record seven steals. These all sound like reasons why they could win the game, and if it wasn’t for some Hollywood shotmaking by you-know-who, they would have.
We talked all year about ‘the new CSKA’, freed from the prison of the past few years’ failures. When it came down to it though, they put the game in the hands of Sonny Weems. As Itoudis said, the game is about more than one single play. Weems tied the game in the final minute, but in the preceding ones he dribbled the CSKA offense into the same familiar black hole.
Brent Petway Reacts