Never underestimate the Greek hoopsters

By George Georgakopoulos

Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, who between them have won the last three European crowns, won again at home on Wednesday to take their Euroleague play-off series with Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow respectively to a fifth game.

Despite trailing 2-0 from their first games in their series, both Greek teams bounced back when playing at home and are now heading to Friday’s deciders on a 2-2 score against teams on a far greater budget than theirs. The winners of Games 5 in Madrid and Moscow will get the tickets to Milan’s Final Four.

Olympiakos was always the underdog, even in Piraeus ahead of Game 4, but stood its ground and dominated the game at the Peace and Friendship Stadium to win 71-62 thanks to an excellent defensive game that held high-flying Real to particularly low scoring levels.

With Real players such as Sergi Rodriguez and Sergio Llull a shadow of their usual selves, Olympiakos produced some great teamwork and had five players on a double-digit scoring record.

Olympiakos led several times by up to nine points (with the first half ending 37-30), but Real would always come back to level the score, up to 49-49. In the last period Olympiakos was unstoppable scoring 22 points in the last nine minutes of the game.

The Reds were led once again by an ever-improving Bryant Dunston who scored 13 points, collected nine rebounds and earned eight fouls.

Panathinaikos had a far harder time beating CSKA Moscow, winning 73-72 after overtime at the Olympic Sports Hall in Athens. This was the second out of the four games between the two teams so far that had no winner after regulation time.

The game was on a knife's edge from start to finish as the lead kept changing hands: 21-16 after Q1, 37-38 at half-time and 51-48 after Q3.

The Greens went on to advance 63-54 thinking they had bagged victory with three minutes left, but CSKA forced overtime where it led 71-68, just 45 seconds from the end. Eventually an Antonis Fotsis three-pointer and two Dimitris Diamantidis free throws produced a happy ending for the Greens.

Jonas Maciulis notched up 15 points with Stephane Lasme adding 14.

The question now is whether the most athletic Greeks or the physically imposing Russians will prevail in Game 5 in Moscow. Anyway Monday and Wednesday proved that you cannot underestimate the Greeks.