Olympiacos have upset the odds again as they edged Barcelona 68-64 in Istanbul.
Most people were expecting a Barcelona victory going into this game but the underdogs ruled the roost and, led by the inspirational Vasilis Spanoulis, who hit a game-high 21 points they went through to Sunday’s final with the belief that CSKA Moscow can be beaten.
There was a slight worry as at the end of the game, Acie Law had to be helped out after apparently twisting his ankle in the closing stages of the fourth. No comment was made on his status.
Another close finish was hard to believe after the thriller between Panathinaikos and CSKA Moscow earlier, but Olympiacos attacked their opponents throughout, and they were rewarded as they led for the majority of the contest and were deserved winners.
“Ever since the beginning of the season everybody was saying we were outsider. We showed again that we are a team that gives all the effort in the gym, we play good, we play with lot of energy and we have passion to win the games,” said Georgios Printezis, who hit 14 points off the bench.
Barcelona were poor, there was no doubt about it and like Panathinaikos did earlier, Olympiacos started with a purpose, a triple from Spanoulis and Evangelos Mantzaris gave the Reds an early 6-0 lead as the ACB side were sluggish, almost a shadow of the side that came into Istanbul with the Euroleague’s best record overall.
Juan Carlos Navarro led with 18 points for Barcelona but he was the only player in blue that showed up.
“We were not able to play the way we wanted lately. Truth to be told, Olympiacos was the best team on the floor and controlled the game. Now we will have to play the third place game and try to win it. It is difficult to think about it after a loss, but that is the way things are. Right now I feel bad, not only physically, but mentally. Nothing feels good right now,” Navarro said.
Erazem Lorbek got Barcelona off the board and a basket by Brazilian Marcelinho Huertas in traffic narrowed the gap to 10-6. But Olympiacos bossed the opening exchanges, leading 17-11 after a non-eventful first quarter.
Kostas Sloukas extended the gap to seven with the first play of the second period, followed by an impressive hook from Fran Vazquez. Barcelona were hanging in there, matching the Reds and trading buckets as well. The Catalans efforts were awarded with a Navarro score in traffic as the Eurobasket MVP tied the game at 34.
It remained close throughout, a highlight alley-oop from Spanoulis was emphatically hammered home by Richard Dorsey to give Olympiacos a 33-29 lead at the half.
Like he did in the first quarter, Spanoulis connected from deep to extend the Reds’ lead to seven too begin the third. Vazquez answered, but Olympiacos were always in control of the third, leading 50-47 heading into the fourth.
Olympiacos fans were getting more fanatical, and the Panathinaikos clan, who stayed behind were biting their nails.
A triple from Printezis gave Olympiacos a 61-56 lead with 4:28 remaining, but again, Barcelona came back and free-throws from Boniface Ndong narrowed the gap to two points at 66-64 after Spanoulis hit what was thought to be a dagger triple.
Huertas made a key mistake by shooting from deep with 21 seconds left on the shot clock, following a missed free throw from Ndong. Dorsey scored inside but missed the resulting free throw. Barcelona had one last throw of the dice but wasted it. The Panathinaikos fans headed for the exit, the small Barca contigent were ripping the flags off the stands and the 4,000 Olympiacos mass were beyond hysterical.
“The game was very, very tough. Our defense was at an extremely high level. One advantage this team has is one word that is used very much; it’s energy. But that was very important. The key point was rebounding. We knew if we could control rebounds, there was a chance,” Olympiacos coach Dusan Ivkovic said.