Olympiakos opens with win

Olympiakos, a former domestic and European basketball powerhouse seeking to reclaim its position, defeated Maroussi 75-60 last night to take a 1-0 lead in a best-of-three semifinal series. The Piraeus club, which has not won a domestic league title since 1997, is now just one win away from reaching the final. A win against Maroussi tomorrow night, away, in the second game of the best-of-three series would assure the team of its place in the final. In the other semifinal series, which began Monday, defending champion Panathinaikos, winner of seven of the past eight league titles and three-time European champion, registered a convincing 83-67 win over Aris for a 1-0 lead. The rivals meet for their semifinal series’s second match tomorrow night. It took little time for Olympiakos to begin consolidating its position in last night’s encounter, during which Maroussi, coached by the national team coach Panagiotis Yiannakis, showed signs of weakness both in offense and defense, a department it is best renowned for. Olympiakos’s early momentum was chiefly provided by Croat forward-center Andrija Zizic, who was used for the game’s first 19 minutes, during which he managed to score 21 points. With just five minutes elapsed, Olympiakos led by 12 points, 15-3. With the entry into the game of point guard Christos Stefanidis, as well as improved play from Roderick Blackney, Maroussi managed to narrow the gap to seven (19-12) by the 10th minute of play. But the determined home team did not take long to react. Shooting guard Renaldas Seibutis and center Sophocles Schortsanitis helped Oympiakos rebuilt a commanding lead of 13 points. It was then stretched further to 16 (41-25) and 25 points (55-30) by the 25th minute of play. The return to play by Schortsanitis late in the game, following a break, helped Olympiakos establish a 27-point lead that was eventually whittled down to the final 75-60 result. The game was attended by the general director of NBA team Miami Heat, Randy Pfund, a former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The 14-team A1 competition’s top eight clubs advanced to quarterfinal best-of-three playoffs leading to the ongoing semifinals. Iraklis, traditionally one of the country’s more formidable basketball teams, was relegated to the inferior A2 division for the first time in the club’s professional-era history.