Less than a week before the start of the 2017 Euroleague Final Four, which will take place at the “Sinan Erdem Dome” in Istanbul, here is a preview of what we are expecting to see during the two semi-finals.
CSKA Moscow vs Olympiacos Piraeus (Friday, May 19, 17:30 CET)
In a rematch of the 2015 Euroleague Final Four semi-final in Madrid, where Olympiacos beat CSKA Moscow and advanced to the Final, the two clubs will play against each other for the fourth time in the last six years (2012, 2013, 2015, 2017)
The Muscovites want to win the title for a second straight time, whereas the “Reds”, who will enter the arena as the underdogs, will fight to return to the top of Europe for the first time since 2013 and third in the last six years.
In the stadium where Olympiacos beat CSKA in 2012 and claimed the title, making the biggest come-back in Euroleague history, the Greeks will do their best to eliminate the defending champions in their effort to earn their fourth Euroleague title.
Coach Giannis Sfairopoulos is not expected to make many changes to his game plan and tactics and will focus on exploiting the squad’s amazing defensive performance.
The “Reds” had the league’s best defence during the regular season, while they were equally tremendous defensively in four of their five games against Anadolu Efes in the playoffs.
Although they will play without their best on-ball defender, Daniel Hackett, who has suffered a season-ending injury, Olympiacos’ roster is consisted of players that can play very effective defence in more than one positions.
That said, the “Reds” will certainly try to prevent Milos Teodosic and Nando De Colo from scoring points and creating open shots for their team-mates, while it will be vital for them to stop Kyle Hines’ and James Augustine’s offensive productivity inside the paint.
Offensively, their tactics will revolve around Vassilis Spanoulis’ performance (12.7 points, six assists per game) and Giorgos Printezis’ post-up game (12.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg).
Especially the 35-year-old captain was unstoppable in the playoffs (17 ppg, six assists per game) and will fight tooth and nail for his fourth Euroleague title, while the co-captain’s playing style can give the team many crucial points from the post and inside the paint.
Concurrently, Erick Green’s instant scoring (10.1 ppg, 39.5% from beyond the arc) as well as the presence of Kostas Papanikolaou (55.1% in two-pointers) and Ioannis Papapetrou (who will replace injured forward Matt Lojeski) will be of utmost importance for the squad in order to remain competitive for 40 minutes, although coach Sfairopoulos will need his entire roster to be at his very best during the game.
On the other hand, the defending champions will enter the arena knowing they are the favourites to qualify to the Final, as they have already beat their opponents twice in the regular season.
With Teodosic being doubtful for Friday’s game, due to injury, coach Dimitris Itoudis knows he may need to make the necessary adjustments to cover the Serbian’s absence, as his roster is full of versatile players that can offer decent solutions in more than one positions.
The Greek coach will be expecting from his players to effectively guard Spanoulis and Printezis as well as impose their own playing style in order to quickly earn a double-digit advantage.
De Colo (19.4 ppg, 44.7% in three-pointers) is expected to execute most plays, while Andrey Vorontsevich’s (48.5% from range), Hines’ (64.9% in two-pointers, one of the Russians’ best defenders) and Cory Higgins’ (9.6 ppg, 39.3% from beyond the arc) performance will be a key factor in the Muscovites’ effort to win the game.
Fenerbahce vs Real Madrid (Friday, May 19, 20:30 CET)
Fenerbahce qualified to the Final Four for a third straight time and want to advance to the Final for the second time in a row, however their battle with Real Madrid will certainly be extremely difficult.
As the Final Four takes place in Istanbul, the Turks will play in front of their supporters, which can add extra pressure to their opponents.
Fenerbahce decimated Panathinaikos during the playoffs (0-3), so they have the momentum on their side and will try to exploit Zeljko Obradovic’s presence on the bench.
The eight-time Euroleague winner is considered one of the best coaches in Euroleague history and there is no doubt he will prepare his players very well, both mentally and physically, in order to be at their very best.
Although the active roster is consisted of seven or eight players, they are so talented that they can make the difference both inside the paint and from beyond the arc.
Bogdan Bogdanovic (14.5 ppg, 43.2% in three-pointers) and Kostas Sloukas (4.6 assists per game, 43.3% in three-pointers) will be the team’s leaders in the back-court line, with Bobby Dixon (11.5 points per game) coming off the bench to change the rhythm.
At the same time, Ekpe Udoh (12 points, 7.6 boards, 2.1 blocks per game, the team’s best on and off-ball defender) and Jan Vesely (9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) will try to be dominant inside the paint.
What I think, though, it’s that the presence of forwards Luigi Datome (45.9% in three-pointers) and Nikola Kalinic (excellent defender, 55.5% in two-pointers) can be a game changer and can enable their team-mates to play at much higher standards, as the aforementioned players can offer decent solutions on both ends of the floor.
On the other hand, the “Whites” come to Istanbul ready to claim the title for the second time in the last three years. Their roster is so deep and talented that almost every player can make the difference in the semi-final.
Sergio Llull (16.4 ppg, 5.9 apg) is the undisputed leader and MVP candidate and will certainly take over from the beginning of the game, while forward Anthony Randolph (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.1 blocks per game) will act as the link between the back-court line and the frontline, thanks to his versatile playing style.
Apart from Gustavo Ayon (10 points, 7.2 boards per game, 71.4% in two-pointers), who will have much playing time, I am expecting from Othello Hunter (65.5% in two-pointers, 4.5 rpg) to be equally effective and score crucial points as well as protect the rim.
Concurrently, Euroleague’s next big thing, Luka Doncic (8.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 39% in three-pointers), will have a key role in coach Pablo Laso’s tactics, as the Madrid squad will try to impose a run’n’gun playing style.
Laso will probably try to use as many players as he can in order to retain his players’ energy at high levels and exploit the fact that Obradovic will use only seven or eight players during the game.
Although all bets are off, I believe Real Madrid will qualify, due to their roster’s depth that will let them have more players in the ideal playing condition during the match.
To sum up, both semi-finals are expected to be spectacular and ultra competitive, with any prediction regarding the winners certainly being too risky.
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