2012 Year In Review: Euroleague

19 December 2012

BASKETBALL IN EUROPE

Olympiacos Euroleague 2012 champions
Olympiacos were crowned Euroleague champions for the second time in the club's history

The last 12 minutes of the big final of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague 2011/12 season in Istanbul defied logic.

Those 720 seconds overturned every reasonable argument made during a nine-month long season, reduced piles of statistical sheets into useless recycled paper and forced several experts to blush with embarrassment.

In short, they reminded everyone of everything that makes basketball such a great sport.

CSKA Moscow, a team with an almost flawless roster, a side built to dominate the continent, featuring the likes of Andrei Kirilenko, Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic, Victor Khryapa or Ramunas Siskauskas, was not standing at the top of the podium at the end of the final.

But instead the team enjoying the view from the peak of Europe was Olympiacos, a side that almost sneaked into the Final Four through the back door, a side that went into the play-offs with a 9-7 record.

 

REGULAR SEASON & TOP 16

The Greek champions got off to a bad start to the season, losing 76-61 at Bilbao Basket.

Things did not exactly improve in the weeks that followed, with Olympiacos suffering a further three defeats in their next six games.

After the 86-70 loss at Fenerbahce, coach Dusan Ivkovic decided to drop American forward Matt Howard, who had joined the team in the summer.

With their backs to the wall, the Reds responded by winning three consecutive do-or-die contests and advanced from the Regular Season with a 6-4 record.

Olympiacos started the Top 16 phase with yet one more defeat, 86-78 to CSKA Moscow at home.

Ironically, the Russian champions were so strong favourites to walk away with the Euroleague title by that stage that Olympiacos were mostly happy with the mere fact their team mounted a challenge and led for part of the game.

They lost the following game as well, but only after Galatasaray edged them out 78-77 in overtime.

But Olympiacos were visibly improved now, especially as they realised new recruits Acie Law and Joey Dorsie could make meaningful contributions to the cause.

They went on to defeat Anadolu Efes twice and beat Galatasaray 88-81 at home and qualified to the play-offs despite a second, by a heavy 32-point margin this time, loss to CSKA.

 

Dimitris Diamantidis - Panathinaikos
Dimitris Diamantidis and his Panathinaikos team-mates reached the Final Four in dramatic fashion

PLAY-OFFS

Montepaschi Siena had won 12 of their 16 games going into the play-offs and had every right to feel this was finally their year, the year they not only reached a Final Four but also played in the title game.

The Italian champions' formidable roster and coach Simone Pianigiani wanted to go out with a bang in what they secretly knew was their last season together.

Olympiacos though, in their best night of the season until that point, stunned Siena in the first game of the series and prevailed 82-75 to steal the home-court advantage.

The Italian side bounced back to edge them out in the second game at home, 81-80, but the tables had well and truly turned already.

The Greeks looked so disciplined, so methodical in Siena and they took their game to the next level when the series moved to Piraeus.

They destroyed their opponents 75-55 in the third game and then clinched one more victory, 76-69, to win the series 3-1.

CSKA meanwhile made easy work of their first two games against Bilbao and despite a 94-81 setback when the tie moved to Spain for the third clash, they prevailed in the fourth encounter to prevent the series from going back to Moscow for a decider.

FC Barcelona Regal were impressive in the first two phases of the competition, registering only one - meaningless - loss in 16 games in the Regular Season.

They sealed their pass to the Final Four in style, with a 3-0 sweep of UNICS Kazan.

In perhaps the best series in the play-offs, Panathinaikos and Maccabi won one game each in Athens and the Israeli champions took the third encounter when the series travelled to Tel Aviv.

Maccabi only had to deal the fatal blow in the next game, also at home, but Panathinaikos were still the reigning European champions and were not going to give up on their title defence so easily.

Zeljko Obradovic's side won 78-69 to force a tie-breaking fifth game in Athens.

In one of the most dramatic encounters of the season, Dimitris Diamantidis put the Greens up front, 86-85, with five seconds left on the clock and then stole the ball on Maccabi's last second to secure his team's passage to Istanbul.

 

FINAL FOUR

There was only one question on everyone's lips at the jam-packed Sinan Erdem Arena at the Final Four weekend: Can anyone really steal it from CSKA?

To answer this question, most experts were examining the merits of Panathinaikos, who were taking on the Russian side in the first semi-final, and Barcelona, who were expected to meet them in the final should Obradovic's team fail to stop them.

Ivkovic and his men were largely assigned the role of also-runs, and it suited them just fine.

Panathinaikos came up with a dreamy first quarter to lead CSKA 29-15 and show, perhaps for the first time, that there were weak points in their armour.

The omni-present Kirilenko though stepped up and CSKA tightened the screws on defence so much in the second quarter that the Greens scored a mere five points in the period and took only a slim two-point advantage at half-time.

When CSKA finally pulled ahead, 66-64, in the final seconds, it was again the defence that gave them the win as they denied the multi-winning PAO even the chance to take a decent shot on their final possession.

Vassilis Spanoulis - Olympiacos - Euroleague 2012 Final
Olympiacos' Vassilis Spanoulis was named MVP of the Final Four

The stage was set for a CSKA v Barcelona showdown, except Vassilis Spanoulis and Co. thought otherwise.

Olympiacos bombarded the Catalans from medium and long range in the first quarter to establish an unexpected 17-11 lead and held on the rest of the way based on a tactically flawless defence and excellent choices on offence.

The Reds stunned Barcelona 68-64 with Spanoulis finishing with 21 points, Giorgos Printezis scoring 14 and Kostas Papanikolaou adding nine to go with his phenomenal defensive effort.

The only surprising element at the start of the big final was just how bad both teams shot the ball, with the first quarter ending 10-7 for CSKA.

Immediately after the first buzzer, CSKA started confirming everyone's predictions by gradually pulling away.

The Russian side took a 14-point lead at half-time and then increased the gap to 19, 53-34, with two minutes left in the third quarter.

By that point, the countless celebrities amid the 16,000-strong crowd were trying their best to look interested for the cameras and journalists were putting the finishing touches in their 'CSKA crowned champions' reports.

But then Evangelos Mantzaris hit a big three at the buzzer to cap a 6-0 run and Kostas Sloukas made another three-pointer to open the final quarter.

A stunned CSKA went six minutes without a score and their lead dropped in the meantime to only five points.

Papanikolaou, the best player for Olympiacos in the final, was fouled with 10.1 seconds to the final buzzer. The forward nailed both free throws to bring his team within one point, 61-60.

The Greeks fouled Siskauskas immediately and the Lithuanian great missed both shots from the charity stripe, for Olympiacos to regain possession with nine seconds on the clock.

Spanoulis darted towards the CSKA basket and, to everyone's surprise, instead of taking the lane he passed to Printezis at the low post, who made a one-handed floater with 0.7 seconds on the clock.

Olympiacos had just completed the most spectacular comeback in the history of the competition to win 62-61 and were crowned Euroleague champions.

Papanikolaou was truly inspiring, finishing with 18 points on a perfect three-for-three from beyond the arc, Spanoulis had 15 points and Printezis 12, including the game-winner.

Spanoulis, who was voted MVP of the Final Four, averaged 16.7 points and 4 assists per game throughout the season.

 

Giorgos Printezis' game-winner was one of the most memorable basketball moments of 2012:

 


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