Going into what is certain to be a cliffhanger of a Euroleague Playoffs game one between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv, Sofoklis Schortsanitis is outwardly calm – this despite the way Big Sofo and teammate Richard Hendrix were thoroughly beaten at their games by the Greens in last season’s Euroleague championship.
Added to this is the fact that, bizarre as it sounds and due to his no-show for FIBA Eurobasket 2011, tonight’s game at OAKA represents Sofoklis’ very first court appearance in his home nation since joining Maccabi for 2010-11.
Nevertheless, the big man is cool. Jerusalem Post runs extensive quotage from Schortsanitis (well, relatively extensively, anyway) in which he states “I think we have the answers for Panathinaikos. It is time to prove what we can do. We must give our best. I am confident. I do not want to lose. It’s my first game in Greece since I left. I expect a good atmosphere, the fans are very enthusiastic.”
In the 2010-11 Euroleague title game, the Schortsanitis-Hendrix duo was held to a shabby combined 2-of-7 shooting (nearly all within the paint), one rebound, zero blocks and seven fouls. Mike Batiste (who, for the record, got BallinEurope’s vote for EL Final Four MVP) and Antonis Fotsis cleaned up the glass while harassing Tel Aviv’s bigs to distraction and constantly kicking the ball out for the mid-range jumper. With foul troubles plaguing and David Blatt’s halftime adjustments well countered by Zeljko Obradovic, the Greens ultimately controlled interior and perimeter to bag the title.
Things will clearly have to be different for both Sofoklis and teammate if Maccabi hopes to advance; while Fotsis is gone, Big Sofo can reckon to see lots more of Aleks Maric and Kostas Tsartsaris alongside the wily veteran Batiste making the Panathinaikos interior D sturdy again.
Former Maccabi head coach Pini Gershon, whose working relationship with Schortsanitis was sometimes described in rumor as rocky, believes that Sofoklis must step up in this series: “Sofo is [key] for Maccabi. There is a difference in the playing style of Maccabi when Sofo is the court and a different style when [Richard] Hendrix is playing. Panathinaikos still relies on the pick-and-roll. Hendrix is a better defender than Schortsanitis, but [Schortsanitis] is in very good condition lately.”
Big Sofo sure hopes so. “We have bad memories from Panathinaikos,” he said, “and want to avenge last year’s Euroleague final loss.”
And the outlook for Maccabi bringing another European basketball title back to Tel Aviv? Well, Sofoklis appears a bit too modest to talk trash gaudily, but he did tell Germany-based Crossover Basketball that “I like our chances.”
Game one in the best-of-five Euroleague Playoffs series between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv is set for 9pm CET (4pm EST)