Everybody’s favourite storyline is supposed to end here, right? Emmet Ryan on why Sarunas Jasikevicius won’t be happy to just take part in the Euroleague playoffs. He may get better options with a bigger job, but Saras most definitely want to win now. Olympiacos stand between Zalgiris Kaunas and an unlikely trip to Belgrade
Let’s put the obvious to one side for a second: Sarunas Jasikevicius is the hottest property in European coaching right now. If a job becomes open and he wants it, he’ll get it. The work he has done with Zalgiris has not just brought a low budget team to the post-season of Euroleague, he’s shown the ability to generate real year-on-year improvement in spite of losing some top talent each off-season. That’s a gem right there that any team will happily pay for. We all know this. Let that one rest.
Now, on to the series. Everyone kept looking out for when the big slip would come from Zalgiris but it just never did. This wasn’t a club that relied on runs. It’s mid-season burst of 5 wins in a row was out of character with a side that was more built around being consistent. The big number here is 2. That’s the most consecutive games Zalgiris Kaunas dropped at any stage this season. It happened twice, against Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow in rounds 4 and 5, then against Fenerbahce in rounds 25 and 26. On every other occasion that Zalgiris dropped a game, they bounced right back.
That’s the consistency required to be a factor in a post-season series against anybody when you’re the underdog. Being able to get hot offers a lot but being able to avoid staying down when you get hit brings so much more. Olympiacos know this is a fight they have to win on points because a knockout strategy just won’t work with the Kaunas club.
On paper, and in practice when healthy, this is probably the best Oly outfit since the side that took back to back titles in 2012 and 2013. Yet here there are numbers that have fans of the Reds with cause for concern: 32, 28, and 27. Those were their margins of defeat against Baskonia in round 17, Khimki in round 19, and FC Barcelona in round 26.
Those numbers really don’t align with a side that’s built to just take care of business in the post-season. What we know as Olympiacos basketball is changing, they’re a whole lot more fun on offence these days, but it’s coming with growing pains. That’s led to some ugly nights and Saras is gunning to cause at least one such evening during this series. If he can get Oly questioning what they are about early in this series, he can give his side an opening to pull of a whopper of an upset.
Not that we should expect some disaster to strike Olympiacos. They still have Kill Bill entering playoff mode and a wealth of riches on their roster. They have delivered some utterly dominant displays but we expect the odd night where the Reds are unbeatable. It’s the evenings where they’ve looked like just another basketball team that spur the doubts and give Kaunas fans cause for hope.
There’s not a Zalgiris fan alive who wouldn’t accept two merciless beat-downs by 25 points or more from Oly if they got three 1 point wins in exchange. This isn’t about getting one night of relevance for Saras. He is looking at ways to win this series and he certainly has the brain to force a tight one.
This is the series with the best chance to go the full five games. I’m calling it slightly shorter than that. Olympiacos in four.