|Vassilis Spanoulis, is one step closer to doing this on Sunday night|
Real Madrid and Olympiacos will clash in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague final in London on Sunday, in a belated replay of the game that gave the Spanish giants their last title in the competition, 18 years ago.
In the Friday semi-finals, the reigning Euroleague champions Olympiacos surprised favourites CSKA Moscow 69-52 and later Real prevailed 74-67 over FC Barcelona Regal in a highly entertaining Spanish 'clásico'.
Olympiacos dominated their encounter almost from tip-off, delivering a defensive master class and displaying a steely determination to prove wrong everyone who thought that last year's champions arrived in the London Final Four as the underdogs.
They closed down the lane to prevent CSKA's backcourt players from penetrating or passing the ball inside, and practically annuled the Russian side's superior frontline fire-power.
Six minutes before the half-time interval, the Greek team took a 35-23 lead and forced CSKA head coach Ettore Messina to call a time-out.
The Italian tactician had watched from the sidelines as his team, who had simultaneously on the floor Russian international Sasha Kaun (2.13m) and Serbian international Nenad Krstic (2.12m) during a stretch that Kyle Hines, (1.96m), who was playing at center for Olympiacos, had attempted up to that point 10 three-pointers but only eight shots from inside the arc.
Despite their size disadvantage, Olympiacos were also dominant on the glass, collecting 12 offensive boards that gave them crucial second-chance points; as they out-rebounded CSKA 41-29.
The Greeks took a 40-28 lead at half-time and continued hassling for every ball to extend the gap to 17 points, 53-36, at the end of the third quarter and effectively seal the win with an entire quarter to spare, as CSKA had trouble even scoring from the free-throw line, where they missed 13 shots.
The Moscow side's evident lack of focus did not allow even their most optimistic fan to hope in a comeback at any point.
“I only recognised my players on the floor because they were wearing the CSKA jerseys,” said Messina after the game.
By comparison, Olympiacos looked like an orchestra in perfect sync, with Euroleague season MVP Vassilis Spanoulis in the conductor's role.
Hines led the way for the winners with a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double and F.Y.R. Of Macedonia international Pero Antic also scored 13 points; Spanoulis finished with eight points, five rebounds and four assists.
Russian international Victor Khryapa had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists for CSKA in a losing effort.
|Spanish international Felipe Reyes helped lead Real Madrid to their first final in 18 years|
Reyes, Rodriguez Lead Madrid To Title Game
FC Barcelona reminded everyone they were the best defensive team in the Euroleague this season by giving up only 11 points to Real in the first quarter and take an early seven-point lead.
Sergio Rodriguez came off the bench though at the start of the second frame and transformed the tempo of the game; Real went ahead 27-26 on a triple from the point Spanish guard, with 3:48 left on the clock until the half-time buzzer.
Rodriguez had seven points and six assists in that stretch as Real, who had only made four of their 20 two-point shot attempts but went six-for-nine from behind the three-point arc to take the lead, reached the interval with a 39-33 advantage over their arch-rivals.
Barcelona came back from the locker rooms determined to re-establish dominance through defence; their perfectly executed 2-3 zone kept Real to just three-points in the first five minutes of the third quarter and the Catalans went level, 42 apiece, on an Ante Tomic dunk.
They took the lead on a Marcelinho Huertas triple that made it 49-48, 1:30 from the end of the period, and led 51-48 at the end of the third quarter.
Barcelona started the fourth quarter in similar fashion and looked destined for glory when Joe Ingles drained a triple to give them their biggest lead, 61-52, with 7:30 left to the end of the game.
But Rodriguez and Madrid captain Felipe Reyes had other ideas; with the first slicing the Barcelona defence and the latter winning all battles in the low post allowing Real to turn the tables in just over three minutes.
A Reyes lay-up on the bearded point guard's eighth assist in the game sparked a 12-2 Real run that tied the scores at 63.
Then the Real captain, with two free throws, gave the lead back to his team, 65-63, with 4:04 to the final buzzer.
Barcelona misfired or turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions while Madrid scored the next four points to take a 69-63 lead, as the encounter entered its final two minutes.
From then on they simply kept their cool from the free throw line to clinch victory and their first appearance in a Euroleague final in 18 years.
Rodriguez's contribution amounted to a near double-double of 12 points and nine assists, while Reyes finished with a team-high 17 points in just 19 minutes on the floor and added five rebounds, and Sergio Llull went three-for-six from three-point range and added 13 points.
Huertas led all scorers with 19 points but the loss was especially harsh on Tomic, as the Croatian international was immense on both ends of the floor for Barcelona and finished with 18 points and a game-high 12 boards in a losing effort.
In the 1995 final, a Real Madrid side that was then coached by Zeliko Obradovic defeated Olympiacos 73-61 behind a dominant 23-point display by Lithuanian legend Arvydas Sabonis.