Real Madrid survived a third quarter charge by Olympiacos and shut down Vassilis Spanoulis to end a 20 year wait and win the Euroleague title for 2014/15. Emmet Ryan reports from the Barclaycard Centre.
Whatever amount of Real and Olympiacos fans were in the house on Friday, their numbers had clearly surged for this one. With Fenerbahce and CSKA fans willingly selling theirs to late arrivals, the result was a perfect atmosphere in the Barclaycard Centre before the main event. The day had been all about the build-up to this moment. Olympiacos going for their third title in four years, Real looking to end a 20 year wait and avoid being runners-up for the third straight season. The buzz was building for hours. Even the volunteers were humming along to Devotion during the third place game. Finally it was time.
The opening few possessions were nervous but that was likely in Olympiacos’ favour. They survived the first inside move by Gustavo Ayon, looking ready to lock down the interior with as many bodies as necessary. Pablo Laso looked deep in thought on the sideline as Vassilis Spanoulis opened the Greeks’ account from the line. Real were looking to come out quick with Rudy Fernandez tipping in off a missed Jaycee Carroll three. Ayon however picked up two fouls quickly. Having fouled out against Fener, after dominating the second quarter, Madrid were without his interior presence early. Spanoulis found Matt Lojeski to briefly give the Reds their first lead of the game soon after.
Real however were starting to open things up. Sergio Llull and Carroll both scored from deep before Lojeski responded with two of his own. The pace was quickening and while the scoring was still tit for tat, the speed looked to be to Madrid’s liking. Olympiacos increased their outside pressure, sacrificing space inside with Real sitting Ayon, and slowed the tempo. Despite the early stage of the game, the foul situation for Madrid was already a worry. The issue was the paint. Despite Ayon’s supremacy inside against Fener, Marcus Slaughter and Felipe Reyes had dire outings and this had become a key target for Olympiacos here. That trio along with Ioannis Bouroussis were hounded by the Reds throughout the first quarter. The Reds held a 19-15 lead after 10 minutes.
The message from the Piraeus club was clear. If they could dominate their defensive glass, Real’s options would dry up. Slaughter looked lost at sea as the Reds swarmed on him in the paint. Jonas Maciulis was sent in by Laso to try and bring some sense back to Real’s game and he had an instant impact with a lay-up. While hardly speed merchants, Maciulis and Andres Nocioni offered a more athletic interior threat for Los Blancos. A three from Maciulis brought Real back on level terms midway through the quarter. They were weathering the storm but Olympiacos still controlled the tempo.
With just the one field goal to his credit midway through the second, Spanoulis had yet to really get going. Real had, naturally, decided to bring extra cover when he went into the lane. Still he was able to keep Madrid guessing with some smart passing.Spanoulis however wasn’t helping Olympiacos at the line, personally starting 1 of 4 while his team opened a dismal 6 of 14.
The introduction of Maciulis was beginning to look particularly inspired when the Lithuanian nailed another three to give Real back the lead. They were finally starting to ask questions of the Reds but the fouls kept coming. A steal and fast-break lay-up by Rudy forced a timeout from the Reds. Real however kept the pressure on into the half with a KC Rivers three ensuring they led 35-28 at the break.
It really should be a question of if but it feels more like one of when Spanoulis will heat up. As the second half got under way, Olympiacos needed their miracle man to get things going. The deficit was nothing Olympiacos hadn’t overcome before but Real had gone into the half with control back in their favour. Ayon was finally back in to start the third quarter as Real looked to press home their advantage. First blood finally came via Llull with almost 2 minutes played. Rudy added a three and the lead moved to double digits.
Reyes was forced to sit, reaching four fouls midway through theb third, and Olympiacos were just making enough breaks go their way to stay in it. Back to back threes from Kostas Sloukas and Matt Lojeski did the job and Giorgios Printezis hit a lay-up to make the run 12-0 to give the Reds back the lead.
Prior to the game Carroll had looked as relaxed as ever. Three threes to break the Piraeus club’s run, showed he was still keeping his cool on the court. Madrid had survived a third quarter charge and were pretty much back where they were at the half. Free throws were still hurting Olympiacos and Carroll was on hand to punish them again, this time from inside. With 10 minutes to play, Real were 53-46 aheadf and within touching distance of the trophy.
Nocioni made it a 10 point game with a corner three to start the final frame. Laso had been in places like this before. He was getting riled up on the sideline befor returning to his classic cross-armed pose. Over the past three seasons he has seen victory snatched away from him in improbable circumstances. Now with Spanoulis back in, he was in no mood to get complacent. Billy however just wasn’t there, not yet at least, and it was hard to see a surge as late as the one he had against CSKA being sufficient.
4.37 on the clock, Spanoulis goes for another three but once more he misses. At this stage he’s 0 of 4 from deep. Nocioni goes from the other end and makes it. Real up 10 with 3.45 to play. The end of a 20 year wait is getting closer.
Finally, as Real nailed free throws to push out further, the belief was truly there in the arena. Those fans who wore A Por La Novena t-shirts in Milano and London only to go home shellshocked had their moment. Right here, in the home of Los Blancos, with Oles welcoming every pass, just like their youngsters earlier in the day, the grown men of Real Madrid were crowned Euroleague champions.