Back from the dead, AEK takes hoops title

Breaking a 32-year drought for the title, AEK was crowned Greek basketball champion last night after completing a remarkable comeback in the best-of-five finals to down Olympiakos 79-70 in the deciding game. Olympiakos led the series 2-0 before AEK rebounded to win three successive do-or-die encounters last night before 10,000 fans at the team’s OAKA home stadium. They sensed glory early with a 10-0 run by AEK for a 12-4 in the fourth minute, but Olympiakos replied swiftly. An 8-0 run leveled the score at 12-12 in the seventh minute. Playing tenaciously, AEK erupted with another impressive 13-1 run to take a 32-20 lead midway through the second quarter, a difference which was maintained for half time’s 43-31 score. Without three key players, forward James Forrest, guard Alphonso Ford, and playmaker Theodoros Papaloukas, all on the bench, Olympiakos lacked firepower up front and looked feeble in defense. Throughout the third quarter, AEK had maintained a lead of at least 10 points, which, at one point, it had stretched to 17 points (48-31 in the 22nd minute) as Olympiakos’s sprayed its shots. Six minutes later, the Piraeus side narrowed to below 10 points for the first time since the game’s 14th minute. A bombardment of three-pointers sparked by Captain Milan Tomic late in the third quarter saw Olympiakos bounce back within striking distance. AEK’s lead was reduced to 56-53 early in the final term, while another outbreak of Olympiakos three-pointers, this time courtesy of Frenchman Stephane Risacher had the finalists tied at 59-59 seven minutes before time. The Piraeus side went ahead 61-59 six and a half minutes before the end, but AEK, sensing danger, responded valiantly. Fierce play saw the team hold on to a narrow lead. AEK managed slipping away to a more commanding lead during the last two minutes of play. A series of five successful free throws in the last minute gave AEK a 75-68 lead with 45 seconds remaining. AEK forward Dimos Dikoudis was his team’s top scorer with 23 points. For Olympiakos, Risacher topped his team’s scoring list with 17 points. And while the two finalists battled for the domestic title, the boss at European champion Panathinaikos, Pavlos Yiannacopoulos, announced he would step down as club president, saying he was tired. Stating that his decision was irrevocable, Yiannacopoulos said his brother would fill the post while an appropriate buyer for their majority stake in the club was sought at the end of next season.