By Jeff Taylor
|Zeljiko Obradovic added an eighth Euroleague title to his huge trophy collection, but the bad news for opponents is he still wants more|
The Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Barcelona needed a three-game warm-up but it turned into the event that everyone expected it to be on Sunday when the two great basketball institutions of Greek giants Panathinaikos and Israeli juggernauts Maccabi squared off in a title showdown.
PAO, roared on by their green-clad supporters in the Palau Sant Jordi, beat Maccabi 78-70 and Dimitris Diamantidis, for the second time in his career, was voted as the most valuable player of the Final Four.
Zeljko Obradovic, the Panathinaikos coach, wrote another chapter in his magnificent career.
Sunday's victory gave Obradovic his eighth title in the competition.
He won with Partizan Belgrade in 1992, DKV Joventut in 1994, Real Madrid in 1995 and now has five championships with Panathinaikos.
It's hard to imagine Obradovic doing anything else but coaching, and doing that at Panathinaikos.
"You only live once," Obradovic said after Sunday's win.
"I am very happy everyday for coaching my players."
Obradovic, who was speaking after the game, then delivered some good news for Panathinaikos fans and bad news for their opponents.
"I love this sport and if everything remains this way, I will try to keep doing it for a long time," he said.
The turning point on Sunday for Panathinaikos, who beat a cold-shooting Montepaschi Siena 77-69 to reach the title game, came in the third quarter.
A player who took center stage for Greece at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in their upset of Team USA, man mountain Sofoklis Schortsanitis, caught a pass on the low blocks three minutes into the second half and scored for a 36-35 lead.
Maccabi's only advantage in the second half was short-lived because Drew Nicholas replied immediately for Panathinaikos with a jumper inside the arc.
|Dimitris Diamantidis swept almost all individual Euroleague awards this season, being voted Regular Season MVP, Final Four MVP and Best Defender|
Romain Sato, a player from the Central African Republic, then threw in a couple of daggers from long range.
His third shot from the arc at the end of the frame gave the Greens a 54-43 lead.
After the lead ballooned to 14 in the fourth quarter, Israel international Lior Eliyahu, who had no points in the first three quarters, erupted for 12 in the fourth for Maccabi.
His last basket closed the gap to 74-70 with 19 seconds to play but Maccabi had to foul Mike Batiste and the all-Euroleague First Team selection made both free-throws with 12.6 seconds remaining to seal the triumph.
Diamantidis, who finished with 16 points, nine assists, five rebounds and two steals, did much of his damage in the first quarter when the Greens opened up a 22-15 lead.
There was no doubt he would be voted MVP, which also happened in 2007 when he led PAO past CSKA Moscow in Athens.
Diamantidis celebrated his 31st birthday on Friday.
The point guard with the long arms and great instincts is all things Panathinaikos.
There were more than a few people in the Palau Sant Jordi on Sunday saying how wonderful it would be for Diamantidis to go the NBA to show the Americans how awesome he is.
It's never going to happen, though.
"I am very happy at Panathinaikos and not going to go anywhere," he said.
"For the NBA? No.
"I will stay here at Panathinaikos."
Everyone remembers last summer in Turkey, too, when Diamantidis led Greece into the Eight-Finals but then abruptly retired from the national team.
|Maccabi and Russia head coach David Blatt, gracious even in defeat, had only words of admiration for Obradovic and Diamantidis after the final|
Diamantidis was allegedly hurt by accusations that Greece hadn't put their best foot forward against Russia in an attempt to avoid Spain in the next round.
Spain ended up facing the Greeks anyway when New Zealand upset France in their group.
Diamantidis then endured a Greek tragedy when Spain beat them 80-72 and said he'd had enough of the national team.
Blatt, who coached Russia to victory against Diamantidis and Greece last summer, is now the Maccabi coach.
"Diamantidis was the MVP of the Euroleague and he sure played like it today," Blatt said after Sunday's game.
"He's one of the great European players, maybe of all time because he impacts the game in so many areas and he does it seemingly the right way all the time.
"He has calm in the face of battle that allows him to see the game more slowly than the rest and to make better decisions than the rest."
For Montepaschi Siena, and Real Madrid, the weekend was full of disappointment.
Once a team loses in a semi-final, there is an empty feeling with nothing but pride to play for.
Siena won the battle for third place 80-62 and at least left Barcelona with a victory.
For Madrid, the weekend was an embarrassment.
Florentino Perez is the club president and he sat in the stands on Friday and watched a nightmare unfold before him.
Maccabi destroyed Madrid 82-63 in their semi-final.
On Sunday, Madrid crashed to an 80-62 defeat to Siena.
"I want to say that I am sorry for the ugly image that we gave on the court," Madrid coach Emanuele Molin said on Sunday.
"I feel sorry for the club and our fans, who came here with the hope to see a team able to be loyal to its playing style and give them something more out there.
"It is everyone's responsibility, starting with me."
Molin replaced Ettore Messina as coach after the Top 16 when the Italian great resigned.
Messina came to Barcelona to support Molin and watch his former team flounder.
Pianigiani, who will coach Italy at the EuroBasket in Lithuania, has led Siena to four Italian Lega A titles in a row but has yet to win a Euroleague crown.
He said: "We are proud and some shots should have gone in (against Panathinaikos on Friday).
"We are not that far away -- we could have made it this time."