Olympiacos punches the final ticket to London

The memories of last season’s championship game came flooding back all over again. Olympiacos down by double digits, their fans subdued, but then they came back to win it.

It wasn’t as dramatic as Georgios Printezis’ last second winner in Istanbul last May, but he was instrumental in Olympiacos’ 82-72 win over Anadolu Efes at the Peace and Friendship Stadium that secured their place in the Euroleague Final Four in two weeks time in London.

Printezis hit 15 points and seven rebounds while Vassilis Spanoulis finally discovered his scoring touch to lead the winners with 19 points and five assists as the reigning Euroleague champions turned a 15-point, second quarter deficit on its head as a lay-up from Spanoulis with 4:00 left gave the hosts the lead which they never relinquished.

“We proved tonight that the Euroleague trophy we won last season was not a lucky one,” Printezis said. “Olympiacos makes it to the Final Four for the fourth time in five seasons and I feel proud to belong to such a basketball powerhouse. Tonight we suffered a lot, but we came back and this is business as usual for this team. We are a good team and aiming to repeat.”

Spanoulis said: “It is always very difficult for any reigning Euroleague champion to make back-to-back Final Four appearances. The season was too tough and long, that’s why all the teams had to deal with the ups and downs.

“We didn’t start well both in defence and offence, but we found the path to the victory. Now we are going to London to play our basketball. We are the defending Euroleague champions and we will do everything possible to be successful there. We have to play freely, with heart, good tactics and, hopefully, with some luck.”

Some said that the Reds got a lot of luck in Istanbul against then heavy favourites CSKA Moscow. In London, they get to prove that 2012 was no fluke, as they will meet again on May 10 in the semi-finals.

Anadolu Efes were defeated but broken. Their players unable to talk to the media. This loss hurt, from the moment Olympiacos grabbed the lead in the fourth to the final buzzer, this was their worst nightmare, multiplied by 100. Coach Oktay Mahmuti was however available for post-game quotes but was brief and to the point.

“Congratulations to Olympiacos,” he said. And nothing else.

Jamon Lucas hit 14 points for Anadolu Efes who narrowly missed out on becoming the first Turkish side since 2001 to reach the Final Four. The Turks were without Sasha Vujacic for this game but for the majority, it didn’t seem to matter. Three-pointers by Jordan Farmar and Kerem Tunceri sparked a 13-0 burst in the second quarter that gave the visitors a 36-21 lead, stunning the 12,000 fans in the arena. In the previous six games between the two this season, none of them have managed to pick up a road win.

Olympiacos hit back though in the third quarter, roared on by their raucous followers, a triple from Spanoulis tied the game at 49-49, as the momentum was in favour of the Reds. Anadolu Efes looked out of ideas, unable to run simple sets and opting for isolation plays that led to nothing, the omens looked good for the hosts.

The Istanbul side steadied the ship as the third drew to a close, Kerem Gonlum helped his side back into it and he sunk a pair of free throws to push Efes ahead 55-54, heading into the final period.

Olympiacos though had all the answers, led by Spanoulis, they completely erased the earlier deficit and sealed a decisive win that books their ticket to the O2 Arena.

“I can’t describe my feeling right now,” Olympiacos coach Georgios Bartzokas said. “I am extremely happy and proud for the club, for my players, for the owners and for the fans. Olympiacos will be there for a fourth time in five years and this is a really big deal. We have a body based on Greek players and this is a something that makes us optimistic for the future.

“Tonight we played in a game with several changes of situations and sentiments. Anadolu Efes won the last two games and came here without pressure. They decided once again to give us some open shots, but we had very bad percentages in the first half. Then we showed our character and that was the key to get the win and the Final Four berth.”