SPORTS

Olympiakos defense stifles CSKA as Reds make Euroleague final

An impressive Olympiakos triumphed over a rather poor CSKA Moscow 69-52 in Friday’s Euroleague semifinal in London’s O2 Arena to reach Sunday’s final, where it will try to defend its European crown.

This is the fifth straight year that a Greek team has advanced to the final of Europe’s top club competition and the second in a row for Olympiakos.

The Greeks played a fantastic game in defense by closing down on CSKA offensive assets, as coach Giorgos Bartzokas countered CSKA’s physical superiority with rapid movement and endless marking across the court.

Olympiakos outplayed CSKA, the game’s favorite, in every sense, having 41 rebounds against 29 and scoring two-pointers at a 48 percent rate against a poor 33 percent for the Russians.

After a slow start in which the Russians led 8-4, Olympiakos advanced 10-8 for the first time and frustrated the CSKA attack with its well-worked defense. The Reds pulled away 24-17 and 29-20, to end the first half 12 points ahead (40-28). Notably, CSKA had such poor shooting rates in the first half that it even made no more than three in 10 free throws.

Spurred on by some 3,000 Greeks at the stands, Olympiakos took its lead to 17 points (45-28) at the start of the third period and despite having some problems in attack it managed to contain CSKA to just eight points throughout the third quarter to go into the last one with a 17-point advantage (53-36).

Much as CSKA had billed this game as the grudge match, given it had wanted to avenge its loss in last season’s final in Istanbul, the Russians proved powerless in their effort to get back into the game in the last period, surrendering easily in the end.

Kyle Hines and Pero Antic stood out with 13 points each, with Hines also collecting 10 rebounds and making two steals.

“The team’s chemistry was key,” said Bartzokas, who tried to hide his excitement after the game.

“Our defense was amazing, even I was surprised,” said captain Vassilis Spanoulis, who a day earlier had received the award for the best player in this season’s Euroleague.

The Reds will now face the winner of the Real Madrid vs Barcelona semifinal on Sunday evening at 10 p.m. Greek time.