Real Madrid face Olympiacos in the Euroleague final later today. Two teams steeped in history meet in a game that will dominated by contemporary narrative.
It’s been 20 long years since Real Madrid were kings of Europe. They had their near misses along the way but nothing can hurt quite like the last two years. In London they looked to have beaten their mental demons by downing Barcelona before falling to Olympiacos in the decider. Last year they started the campaign in Milano in similar style to the game we saw on Friday night. A tight first quarter was merely a prelude to an offensive onslaught. When Real play like that, no-one in Europe can live with them.
When Real are forced to not play their game, that’s where the questions creep in. The Madrid giants came off the back of that hammering of Barcelona to get punched in the nose by Maccabi Tel Aviv and then ousted in overtime. That saw their season fall apart, losing meekly in the ACB Finals after a year where they looked the best side in Europe for most of it. Today, in front of their own fans, they have a chance to put matters right. There were however questions that remained after Friday’s dominant display.
On the inside, Real just kept fouling. Ayon, Slaughter, and Reyes all fouled out and only Ayon, who was majestic in the second frame, actually made a relevant contribution to the game. Olympiacos will have seen that and they know Real are far from invincible. They won’t get nights where every three drops too often. The Reds have the defence to prevent the onslaught that ended Fenerbahce.
No, for OIympiacos it is a matter of destiny. They won against the odds in Istanbul and again in London. Last season’s loss in the playoffs looked to have ended the dynasty but then Giorgios Printezis made that shot and they were on a plane here.
Just think back to Friday night’s game. CSKA could have opened up a big lead in the first but Olympiacos held. Vassilis Spanoulis was flat out awful for 36 minutes but when the Reds needed him most, he delivered. It’s the kind of performance that makes you see the mental strength of this team from Piraeus. They may not have the best team on paper but in a one and done situation they have the belief required to survive. We don’t play best of five or best of seven at this time of year. It’s about who can hold it together for 40 minutes better than the other guy.
It’s been a long time since all four teams that made it to the Final Four won their national leagues. We may be in a rare moment where it actually happens this season but that debate only matters to Fener and CSKA Moscow for the next 24 hours. For Real Madrid and Olympiacos, it’s about the fight to claim the greatest title in European basketball. For months we wait for 24 teams to work out how to narrow the field down to 4. Then, in one hectic weekend, all that went before this moment is irrelevant. You made it to the dance, now it’s time to perform. We are in for a hell of a show tonight.