After a series of exciting and intense matches between Euroleague’s best eight clubs, the four teams that qualified to the Final Four are ready to fight tooth and nail to win the coveted title.
That said, here is an analysis of what happened in each of the four play-off series.
CSKA Moscow vs Baskonia (3-0)
Although the Muscovites entered the series as the absolute favourites to dominate their opponents and qualify to the Final Four, the Basques were more than ready to make one of the biggest surprises in Euroleague history.
Thanks to their great plan and tactics, Baskonia were only one step away from beating CSKA twice on the road, however they came up short in the end and had to turn things around in Spain.
Due to some bad decisions offensively and poor officiating, Baskonia again lost to the defending champions in Game 3 and were eliminated.
Even though CSKA played at high standards in all three games, it was Kyle Hine’s presence (8.3 points and four rebounds per game, along with two crucial free-throws in Game 2) and Baskonia’s overall performance that raised the interest.
Coach Sito Alonso had prepared his team very well, especially mentally, and every player knew what he had to do on the floor to lead his squad to the win.
Shane Larkin (12.7 ppg, 5.3 apg), Rodrigue Beaubois (12.7 ppg, 50% from beyond the arc) and Tornike Shengelia (11.3 points per game and 60% in three-pointers) were the Basques’ leaders, with Adam Hanga (10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.3 apg) acting as the supporting cast, as Baskonia pushed the Russians to their limits in the series.
Panathinaikos Superfoods vs Fenerbahce (0-3)
This match-up was expected to be decided in Game 5, as it seemed difficult for both clubs to win on the road. Τhings were completely different for Zeljco Obradovic and his players, though.
The Turks played very well in the first two Games on the road and earned an impressive advantage over the “Greens” (0-2), which let them advance to the Final Four, after again beating the Greeks at home (79-61).
Obradovic exploited Bogdan Bogdanovic’s tremendous playing condition (19.3 ppg, seven rebounds, 60% from beyond the arc) as well as Ekpe Udoh’s defensive stability (13.3 points per game, seven rebounds, two blocks) to help his squad escape from Athens with two crucial victories, despite the roster’s weaknesses (just eight players took part in Game 1 and 2, respectively).
On the other hand, it was nothing but disappointment for Panathinaikos, as the “Greens” made mediocre performances in the most important matches of the season.
More specifically, the team was dominant only in Games 1’s first half, but played very badly in the rest of the series.
Especially Nick Calathes (just 11.1% in three-pointers) couldn’t be a game changer offensively, as Chris Singleton (9.7 points and five rebounds per game), K.C Rivers (13.3 ppg, 50% from the three-point range, although he missed the most important one in Game 2) and Mike James (14.7 ppg, but only 23.8% from beyond the arc) executed most plays.
However, the “Greens” weren’t mentally prepared for these games and the situation went out of control, as they couldn’t turn things around.
Pascual’s biggest mistake was the lack of Plan B, which led to consecutive three-pointers and many isolation plays. That way, though, it was unlikely for the six-time Euroleague champions to beat the Turks at least once.
To make matters worse, Panathinaikos’ owner, Dimitris Giannakopoulos, forced the players and staff to return to Athens by bus, a controversial decision that created many problems within the club, which now has to rapidly enhance their performance to win the championship.
Olympiacos vs Anadolu Efes (3-2)
On Tuesday night, in front of a sold-out crowd at Piece and Friendship Stadium in Piraeus, the “Reds” beat Velimir Perasovic and his players (87-78) to advance to the Final-Four for the sixth time in the last nine years, in a series full of excitement and intensity.
Olympiacos won the first game, but Anadolu Efes made a come-back (1-2) and came closer to the Final-Four, for the first time since 2001.
However, the “Reds” stood tall, survived a “do or die” game in Istanbul (62-74) and managed to earn the victory in Game 5.
Despite facing a squad with a completely different playing style, coach Giannis Sfairopoulos didn’t make many changes to his tactics and wanted to see his defensive line be dominant again as well as all his players offer decent solutions offensively.
In all five games, the Greeks played very effective defence, while captain, and one of Euroleague’s best players, Vassilis Spanoulis, took over after Game 1.
Not only did the 35-year-old guard score many points and dish out assists (17 and six, respectively, with 44.7% in three-pointers) but also did his best defensively, leading the club to another Final Four.
For their part, his team-mates, from Giorgos Printezis (12.8 ppg and 5.8 rpg) to Dimitris Agravanis, played at very high standards in the last two matches and helped their squad make an impressive come-back.
On the other hand, Efes lost a great opportunity, despite having the upper hand in the series, since they were victorious in Game 2 and 3.
The lack of experience was a crucial factor that led to the Turks’ elimination, along with the mediocre offensive performances, but Perasovic did everything he could to beat Olympiacos, changing his initial plan after the loss in Game 1.
Efes tried to take advantage of their players’ high level of athleticism and speed, as the team was able to create many miss-matches and grab offensive rebounds, however they came up short in the end and lost their chance to qualify to the semi-final.
Real Madrid vs Darussafaka (3-1)
Even though the Turkish club wanted to make the surprise and eliminate the 2015 Euroleague champions, the Madrid squad won twice in Istanbul and secured its place in the Final Four.
In the first two matches, it was Darussafaka, and head coach David Blatt, that stole the spotlight and fought until the end for the victory, managing to earn the win in Game 2.
But, the “Whites” came back. Executing very well, especially offensively, Real took advantage of their roster’s depth and beat their opponents twice to advance to the semi-final.
There was no significant differences in the Spaniards’ plans, with Sergio Llull (18.5 ppg, 5.5 apg) executing most plays and Luka Doncic (seven points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists per game, playing effective defence as well) doing almost everything on the floor.
On the contrary, Brad Wanamaker (21 points, four assists per game) was Darussafaka’s most serious threat, with Ante Zizic (12 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Scottie Wilbekin (14.3 ppg, 47.8% in three-pointers) and Will Clyburn (11.5 ppg, but just 15.4% from beyond the arc) as the supporting cast.
Overall, the Turks could have played much better at home, but Real Madrid would prevail, one way or another, thanks to their versatile playing style and higher level of experience.
In the end, all four series certainly were of high quality and ultra-competitive, with the Final Four match-ups being expected to be even better, as Olympiacos face CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid will try to beat Fenerbahce.
With no team entering the floor as the absolute favourite, nobody can know what will happen at the “Sinan Erdem Dome” on May 19 and 21, as all bets are off in Euroleague’s biggest event.