By George Georgakopoulos
Olympiakos has taken a huge step toward returning to the Greek throne after defeating Panathinaikos 69-64 away on Thursday to get a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five final series and break a 28-game-long jinx that had prevented it from beating the Greens at the Olympic Sports Hall for the playoffs.
This means that Olympiakos is one win away from clinching the title that eluded it last year, and will host Panathinaikos for Game 4 of the series on Sunday aiming at celebrating a 3-1 result in front of its own fans.
The Reds led for the whole of the game at Maroussi, being far more efficient in their shooting while Panathinaikos was so turnover-prone that its superiority in rebounds went to waste. If anything, it was Olympiakosís defense that won this crucial game for the visitor.
Olympiakos appeared to have hit the ground running thanks to the previous game, where Olympiakos scored a 25-point home win, and led 21-15 after the first period and 36-28 at half-time.
The team of coach Giorgos Bartzokas went on to take its lead to as many 16 points during in the third period (54-38) that ended 56-40.
In the last quarter, however, Panathinaikos staged a solid comeback and came to within two points (64-62) and with the ball in its hands just over a minute from the end. However some poor decisions in attack and the tight defense of Olympiakos allowed the Reds to hold on to their most precious victory of the season.
While the home fans were unusually well-behaved, given the course of the encounter, the game was stained by the angry statements of Panathinaikos president, Dimitris Giannakopoulos. In a televised statement he lashed out against the referees, using obscene words to say that he will not tolerate any injustice from the officials.
Also on Thursday Panionios scored its first win in the series for the third place, beating PAOK 75-57 at home to reduce the arrears to 2-1.