Hyperbolization of these teams’ history – not to mention the nail-biting, cliffhanging suspense of this very playoff series – would be difficult and doing so would be bland. So BallinEurope will simply say that the series between these two clubs has Panathinaikos with a 15-12 overall advantage historically, and let’s get to the YouTubes. Enjoy quite a fascinating collection of a virtual Who’s Who of highlights; once again, YouTube rules.
(Incidentally, if this collection seems slightly PAO-biased, apologies. Perhaps the Greek side’s fans are ahead in the video-sharing sphere as well…)
Panathinaikos and Barcelona met under the proper Euroleague banner at the very tail end of the 1993-94 season. In the third-place game, Nikos Gallis capped another EL scoring- and assist-leading season (23.8 and 4.7 per game, respectively) by leading PAO to a 100-83 win in the first game between the clubs in 12 years — back to the Champions Cup days.
Just one more day (or so, CET) until the heartily-named 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men tips off in Venezuela. BallinEurope continues with previews of the four European qualifiers with an assessment of Greece, a.k.a. Olympiacos and a bunch of other guys.
Roster: Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou, Kostas Sloukas, Evangelos Mantzaris (Olympiacos); Ioannis Bourousis, Antonis Fotsis (Olimpia Milano); Nikos Zisis (Montepaschi Siena); Nick Calathes, Kostas Kaimakoglou, Ian Vougioukas (Panathinaikos); Dimitrios Mavroeidis, Kostas Vasileiadis (Gescrap Bilbao Basket); and Michael Bramos (Gran Canaria); head coach Ilias Zouros (Anadolu Efes)
Notable no shows: Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos retired from national team play, returning that all-important starting point guard role to Vassilis Spanoulis – not a bad trade off this year … also out are Kostas Koufos (Denver Nuggets) and Sofoklis Schortsanitis (Maccabi Tel Aviv) due to injury.
How they got here: In Eurobasket 2011, a hot start saw Team Greece winning five of the first six games, only to drop three of the final five with losses to Russia, France and Lithuania in the placement game. In the penultimate match, however, Hellas put together its best game of the tournament in topping Serbia, 87-77, to earn a spot in these qualifiers.
Olympiacos shrugged off both history and the Dimitris Diamantidis-Mike Batiste duo last night in taking game three of the Greek League championship series over rivals Panathinaikos, 84-72. With a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, the Reds are poised to take its first domestic league title since 1997; historians will of course note that ’97 marked Olympiacos’ last Euroleague championship until 2012 – and a string of six consecutive runner-up finishes could be broken.
The Reds got out to a 7-0 lead which expanded to 20-8 within the first quarter and ballooned to a 78-55 advantage in the fourth quarter before Olympiacos took feet off the pedal. Individually speaking, several Oly players contributed memorable performances: Euroleague heroes Vassilis Spanoulis and Giorgios Printezis were good for 31 points together while Marko Keselj added 10. Joey Dorsey grabbed eight offensive rebounds in snagging a game-high nine boards overall.
At 33 years of age, Šiškauskas put together a 16-season career with BC Sakalai Vilnius, Lietuvos Rytas, Benetton Treviso, Panathinaikos and CSKA Moscow plus seven years with Team Lithuania in FIBA and Olympic play – good for a gold and two bronzes.
Now here’s an argument starter for you … with much debate perpetually going on among European basketball fans vis-à-vis the influence of American and/or NBA players on the Euroleague, BiE decided to take a look back at the 2011-12 season in hopes of drawing some comparison on an individual, player-by-player level.
Below, then, runs four all-star squads based on play in this season’s edition of the big league; for convenience and competition’s (rather than geopolitics’) sake, players from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro and FYR Macedonia will be virtually suiting up for the “former Yugoslavia” team.
BallinEurope bets that Dimitris Diamantidis didn’t sleep too well last night. In handling the ball of the final play in Panathinaikos’ 66-64 Euroleague Final Four loss to CSKA Moscow yesterday, former MVP DD was stifled by the Red Army defense and poor PAO fans could only watch time run out on the Greens’ back-to-back title bid.
Diamantidis also inadvertently helped redeem his CSKA counterpart, Milos Teodosic, an 88-plus percent free-throw shooter who could’ve iced the game with nine seconds remaining but missed both – and this after referees missed a couple of borderline dragging-the-pivot-foot travels as well.
No matter, though. What everyone tweeted about immediately – and DD is surely contemplating today is what exactly happened on that last Panathinaikos possession. To check out how it unfolded, start at about 3:17 in the video below.
For all the history/stat junkies out there – including myself, as BiE readers know – BallinEurope today takes a look at what all-time Euroleague Final Four records might fall this year … and some that seem unbreakable.
• Under assault could be the all-time free-throw mark of 56 held by Nikos Galis. Galis set this individual mark in just four games in the 1988 and 1990 tournaments with Aris BC and Panathinaikos, respectively, in performances that set all sorts of EL Final Four marks. However, Ramunas Siskauskas has amassed 45 over the years with PAO and CSKA Moscow; at an average of four trips to the FT line per game in 2011-12 Euroleague play, Siskauskas could squeak into the record books in 2012 – and he’s currently a bit better in accuracy than Galis was, at 78.6% to 74.6%.
• Now 34 years old and the senior member of a seriously veteran-laden Panathinaikos team, Mike Batiste doesn’t have too much time left to run up his numbers. While his 41 two-pointers are a far cry from Galis’ ridiculous 87, the Arizona State University alum could jump from his current no. 9 standing on the EL Final Four all-time two-pointer table to no. 4, passing Dejan Bodiroga with just six more buckets. After that, the targets would be no. 3 Theo Papaloukas’ 53 and no. 2 David Andersen’s 57.
• Batiste is also 17 rebounds behind Matjaz Smodis’ lifetime mark of 73; Viktor Khryapa may be destined to become no. 1 before all is said and done, with 54 to his credit already.
You gotta admit, the quote makes a good headline; 2009-10 Euroleague MVP and starting CSKA Moscow playmaker Milos Teodosic is actually showing a bit of modesty to go along with the well of confidence The Red Army squad must be feeling.
“We can’t put him on a pedestal ahead of Panathinaikos’ other players, like [Mike] Batiste or [Sarunas] Jasikevicius.”
Teodosic knows: In CSKA’s two regular-season matchups with PAO in the Euroleague regular season, keeping Batiste and Jasikevicius at bay proved the difference in both games. In the week four OT match, Saras was limited to just six points while harassed into five turnovers, and Andrei Kirilenko’s block of Batiste when the scoreboard read 75-75 in overtime was the hidden key play of the game.
And this week … the Euroleague Final Four! To get things started, BallinEurope presents a roundup of highlight clips from the seasons-that-were of CSKA Moscow, FC Barcelona, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos.
(Wow, BiE wonders every time upon looking at that list just how the big league could have ended up with a more scintillating Final Four: You’ve got undisputed powerhouses in CSKA Moscow – the model example of how NBA refugees affected European basketball in 2011-12 – and FC Barcelona. You’ve got the defending champions with Hall of Fame coach and a nucleus of veterans on yet another title run. And you’ve got a compelling underdog story complete with the possibility of seeing the legendary Greek rivals meeting for a medal … couldn’t have written it better myself.)
First up, the favorites, namely, the big bad Red Army, 2011-12 edition. While Mikhail Prokhorov’s lot has been credited for the team’s relative resurgence at the beginning of the 2000s, CSKA Moscow has admirably continued its winning tradition after the billionaire’s jump to the New Jersey-cum-Brooklyn Nets – mostly through using the big-bucks tactics espoused by Prokhorov et al – and are poised to take a unique triple crown. Indeed, should CSKA prevail in the EL Final Four games and against BC Khimki for the Russian crown, the team will have amassed VTB, EL and PBL crowns in under two weeks of play.
In the interests of complete transparency – hey, somebody in Hungary should aspire to such – BallinEurope today presents the outcome of a heavy Euroleague basketball-watching habit plus several hours of intense thought: Namely, the five names that went onto BiE’s media representative’s ballot for 2011-12 Euroleague MVP.
Since there’s no way the chosen quintet will make anybody completely happy – even though surely the top seven or eight (depending how you feel about certain American imports in Lithuania) individual performances in the 2011-12 ‘League would surely be agreed upon by the great majority of Euroleague fans – BiE will explain the thought process behind the vote and show the initial list of 25 from which the five players receiving points were winnowed. (Bonus: YouTube clips, natch.)
In backwards order, then…
• Toughest omissions – Henry Domercant, Erazem Lorbek and Sonny Weems. Each was so emblematic of their teams in 2011-12, with Domercant and Weems veritably carrying their clubs at times to unexpected Euroleague success. Unics Kazan got attention early in the regular season with a few monster performances by Domercant – including the amazing 30-point, seven-rebound show against Montepaschi Siena in the opener – but Bad Henry actually became more consistent and more well-integrated into the Kazan offense as the team’s season progressed.
Weems kept the overachieving Zalgiris Kaunas afloat – and more – after Ty Lawson returned to the NBA post-lockout, plus gets bonus points for performing among the more YouTubable in European ball. Keeping Weems off the ballot were a couple of off-games in the Top 16 round which may have ultimately kept the Greens out of the semifinal round – and the man did turn over the ball the second-most frequently in the EL, too…
Most notable about FC Barcelona – even more so than in previous years of title glory – is the team’s incredible defenses. Lorbek has controlled the paint on D to make the Blaugrana’s zone traps even more effective and together with Pete Mickael has been triggering fast breaks off the boards while playing in all 19 Euroleague games. Plus, what if someone had told you at season’s beginning that the leading scorer for 2011-12 on Juan Carlos Navarro’s team would be the big Slovenian?
Tough to leave off this expectation-scattering trio, one and all…
• 5. Nenad Krstic, CSKA Moscow
After not exactly fitting into the Boston Celtics after an ill-advised trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder late in 2010-11 and reading the writing on the wall vis-à-vis the player lockout, Krstic may have been the first NBA refugee headliner to sign in Europe. And whoa, has the investment paid off for CSKA Moscow. In Krstic, the Red Army has the ‘League’s no. 1 in accumulated performance index rating, no. 2 in average PIR and no. 5 in points scored – with a shooting percentage of just under 64% overall. A big man among the big men at Moscow, Krstic had to get on the ballot.
• 4. Bo McCalebb, Montepaschi Siena
• 3. Dimitris Diamantidis, Panathinaikos
• 2. Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos
BiE swears that with each coming year, the playmaking guard becomes even more disproportionately important to European and/or international success. Case in point, these three guys in 2011-12; first, the statistical highlights for each:
McCalebb – 16.9 points per game on 61.3% overall shooting, 2.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 17.29 average PIR
Diamantidis – 11.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.5 spg, 17.00 PIR
Spanoulis – 16.5 ppg on 49.7% overall shooting, 3.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 16.37 PIR
Bear in mind all are in the top five in average index rating behind a couple of dudes on CSKA Moscow and that none of three have missed a single game for their teams – now who do you choose? The reputed “fastest man in Europe” and Euroleague top scorer who can lead break after break though doesn’t have the best eye for the open teammate (Gee that’s kinda 2003-04 Kobesque)…
…or the more-than-sum-of-parts guy who just happened to chase last year’s EL MVP bid by leading the league in assists and three-pointers made plus added priceless veteran leadership of a three-time champion…
…or do you go with BiE’s selection from among the three, i.e. the “rock in the middle of that roster … on whom all the Reds could rely” with a career year on the only surprise in the Euroleague Final Four?
• 1. While deciding among the 2 through 4 and 5 through off-ballot positions was difficult, the top choice was the opposite. Yes, BallinEurope went for that most polarizing (only the basketball gods know why) player of 2011-12, Andrei Kirilenko of CSKA Moscow.
Forget what you may think about his consistent-if-not-mindblowing tenure with the Utah Jazz and the virtual all-star squad CSKA management set him up with in the 2011 offseason: The AK-47 has had a monster year. His average PIR of 24.07 per game played is more than 19% better than the nearest competitor (Krstic) – such a mark is currently the 15th best for a single season in the modern era and would be the highest by any player advancing past the regular season since Anthony Parker for Maccabi back in 2004-05. And while he’s “only” ranking seventh in ppg at 17.0, he’s tops in rebounds and blocks plus no. 2 in steals, making him the sole player even close to the top 10 in those four statistical categories.
Yes, Kirilenko missed five Euroleague games and yes, CSKA went 5-0 in that run, but BiE dares say that no single player in the 2011-12 EL became the center of focus every minute he’s on the floor the way that this season’s prospective MVP did – four player-of-the-week awards should prove it.
This season, Kirilenko rules. Let the comments begin.
The top 25 players, as BiE sees it for 2011-12, were the following.
Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos
Dimitris Diamantidis, Panathinaikos
Bo McCalebb, Montepaschi Siena
Henry Domercant, Unics Kazan
Juan Carlos Navarro, FC Barcelona
Milos Teodosic, CSKA Moscow
Jaycee Carroll, Real Madrid
Devin Smith, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Omar Cook, Emporio Armani Milano
Marcelinho Huertas, FC Barcelona
Andrei Kirilenko, CSKA Moscow
Sonny Weems, Zalgiris Kaunas
Nikola Mirotic, Real Madrid
Mike Batiste, Panathinaikos
Marko Banic, Gescrap Bilbao Basket
Viktor Khryapa, CSKA Moscow
Bojan Bogdanovic, Fenerbahce Ulker
Pete Mickael, FC Barcelona
Richard Hendrix, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Felipe Reyes, Real Madrid
Nenad Krstic, CSKA Moscow
Erazem Lorbek, FC Barcelona
Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Giorgi Shermadini, Bennet Cantu
Luka Zoric, Unicaja Malaga