The Final Four might be a few weeks away, but to Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual and Panathinaikos play-caller Argiris Pedoulakis, this game is just as important as the one that they both hope to play in London.
Barcelona and Panathinaikos are tied at two games each with the fifth and final game tonight at the Palau Blaugrana. Both teams certainly don’t lack big game experience but Pascual stresses that his side must stay cool under pressure.
“We are looking forward to playing a good game,” the Barcelona coach said. “Every game is different and Panathinaikos will not change a lot, even when they could try to do it. They try to take the game to low-scoring levels and this one won’t be different. We must control our emotions.”
The Catalan giants will start as favourites – they have only lost twice on their home floor in the Euroleague – but one of those defeats was to Panathinaikos in game two with a clutch three from Diamantidis giving the Greens, at the time, a vital road win. Barcelona repaid the favour though in Athens in game four, setting up tonight winner-take-all showdown.
“We have played many games, but the balance has been quite good. If there is something missing, our fans at Palau Blaugrana will give it to us,” Pascual explained.
“It is the third time that we force game five by winning game four. We did well in the past, but it is the present what matters. Everyone expects us to win and this is a new challenge.”
That challenge will come in the form of Panathinaikos, probably one of the Euroleague’s premier ‘big game’ sides, led by Diamantidis. Coach Pedoulakis is aware of the odds, and hopes that his side plays to it.
“Every game is different. The pressure is now on Barcelona again,” he says. “They have the advantage of playing at home, but still, it’s the fifth game of the series. We know that if at the beginning of this series somebody had said that we were going to get to 2-2, everybody would have been happy.
“[Tonight’s] game is a final. At the same time we must all understand that we are building a new team and that we are trying to be competitive and to fight in every single game. That’s what we are going to do [tonight] too.”
The Greens, who defeated Barcelona at this stage in 2011, en route to winning the Euroleague crown in Catalunya will be well prepared for this contest, but need big games from Diamantidis, Stephane Lasme and their leading scorer in the Euroleague Jonas Maciulis.
“We know that this game is going to be completely different,” Maciulis said “We have beaten Barcelona once here so, everything is possible. One thing is certain: It’s not an easy game. We have to play really well though, to be really focused and to be effective.”