Finalist coaches cool it down

Defending champion Panathinaikos, winner of seven of the last eight domestic basketball league titles, takes on Olympiakos, a resilient force following disappointing showings in the previous two seasons, in a best-of-five final series beginning tonight that will determine this season’s Greek title. The coaches of both clubs, traditional rivals, struck reconciliatory moods in their pre-final series remarks yesterday, after bickering between the two earlier this season. «We must provide a good example so that fans can enjoy a great final series,» noted Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic. «I’ve often made it a point that Greek basketball is in need of a mighty Olympiakos, not one that ends in eighth place,» he added, referring to the rival’s low placing in the previous two seasons. Obradovic said he was looking forward to a smooth final series. «I respect those who respect me. If their coach [Jonas Kazlauskas] approaches me for a handshake, I’ll gladly extend my hand, too. After all, that’s how I always am, and I really don’t want to remember the tension [between us] in our second game this season.» Kazlauskas echoed these intentions. «I’ve got nothing against my colleague. I respect him a great deal as a coach. After all, following that game, I did not make any comments against him but the overall state at Panathinaikos’s stadium,» said Kazlauskas. Olympiakos needed to overcome a determined Maroussi side in a toughly contested best-of-five semifinal series, which the Piraeus team eventually won 3-2. The defending champion’s course was far smoother. Panathinaikos cruised to the final with a 3-0 win over Thessaloniki club Aris. Obradovic said he hoped his team could repeat this in the final. «Our objective was to eliminate Aris with a 3-0 score. Panathinaikos objective is constant and it’s not going to change against Olympiakos,» noted Obradovic. Panathinaikos, which has the home-ground advantage in the best-of-five final, plays tonight’s opening game at home. Panathinaikos and Olympiakos, winners of three and one Euroleague titles, respectively, both narrowly missed out on Final Four appearances this season with 2-1 losses in their best-of-three quarterfinals. Panathinaikos, which won the Greek Cup earlier this season, will be shooting for the double. The losing semifinalists, Aris and Maroussi, also begin a best-of-five series tonight for third place and a Euroleague berth next season. Maroussi holds the home-ground advantage. The Euroleague’s official website also confirmed yesterday that it had finalized a deal with Olympiakos for the club’s participation in Europe’s premier club-level competition over the next three seasons, irrespective of domestic results. Panathinaikos has a similar deal.