Not for the first time, BiE had to change the intro on a Final Four game involving CSKA Moscow following a dramatic late collapse. It wasn’t a vintage performance in the semi-final but sometimes you just love a good slugfest. That’s what Emmet Ryan saw as Olympiacos topped CSKA Moscow to make it to Sunday’s Euroleague Championship game.
The road to the Final Four was littered with Fener fans. Despite being the second game, the blue and gold were everywhere an hour before Olympiacos and CSKA tipped off in the day’s opening game. On the inside, the scene made a touch more sense. The stands to the left of the media tribune were mostly covered in red with a surprisingly loud and substantial number of fans from Moscow. CSKA’s rep isn’t exactly one for bringing big numbers on the road but tonight, in Madrid, with a team that looked the best of all four on paper, they had a real backing and it wanted to be heard.
Olympiacos got the scoring under way via a Vangelis Mantzaris three before Andrey Vorontsevich responded in kind and we were off to a quick start here in the Barclaycard Centre. Defensively CSKA were pressing hard and forced Olympiacos into some difficult shots but they looked a little over-eager on offence. The tight play at the back wasn’t reaping immediate rewards save for forcing Tremell Darden to sit as the American picked up to fouls in the opening three minutes. Where CSKA were succeeding was in the paint, picking up free throws easily enough as they sought to tire out the Piraeus club on the inside.
While Olympiacos found some joy in exploiting CSKA’s errors, they were struggling to get through on offence. CSKA’s D repeatedly forced them deep into the clock and the interior might of the Russian outfit meant second chance opportunities were thin on the ground. The deep ball was all Olympiacos had going but early on that was enough to keep this tight. Oliver Lafayette and Ioannis Papapetrou tied the game up with a pair of threes at 15-15. It was a frame CSKA could have dominated but all they had to show for their efforts at the end of Q1 was a 20-17 lead.
The strength of that opening frame however carried into the start of the second and CSKA pushed their lead out to 7. Out of a time out Brent Petway hit another three for Olympiacos followed up by his signature bow and arrow celebration. Defensively however CSKA remained well on top inside. The three could keep the Greeks in it but they needed to find another way to hurt the Moscow club to shift the pressure. Papapterou brought the inside game to life, scoring in the paint and picking up an offensive board soon after. Matched up against Andrei Kirilenko, he was looking to use his relative youth to his advantage.
CSKA however kept getting to the line, going 14 of 18 in the half compared to just 2 of 2 for Olympiacos, and were finally ironing out the errors that had slowed them in the first quarter. It was on Papapetrou to keep the Reds of Piraeus in the fight and he was a lion on the inside. It was pure guts and it was working. As the half wore down, this had turned into more of a straight up fight and that was the kind of game Olympiacos looked more comfortable with. That was where they could get inside the heads of the Red Army and remind them of Istanbul. A big block from Viktor Khryapa was a cry CSKA’s defence late in the half but Giorgios Printezis levelled it up again at 33-33. At the half it was anybody’s game, CSKA led 36-35.
Despite having the better of the initial exchanges in the third quarter, it was CSKA who looked to be on the back foot early in the frame. Kirlenko vs Papapetrou was turning into a great battle and it was the Greek who was coming out on top. Now Olympiacos had their rotations going, CSKA’s strength on paper wasn’t proving as big an edge as it was meant to be. CSKA needed someone to stand up.
Enter Nando de Colo, the Frenchman chose the opportune time make an impact on this game. A three followed by a lay-up off a turnover forced an Olympiacos timeout. For CSKA, the prospect of moving this beyond a one possession game was turning into a guaranteed breather. It may have stunted their offence but it gave the Red Army time to rest and focus. Olympiacos needed this to be tight, they couldn’t afford to let this game open up. The Reds of Piraeus suffered a blow with over three minutes left in the third. Bryant Dunston picked up his fourth foul and had to sit. Every inside body was valuable at this stage. Sonny Weems hit a behind the back lay-up to push CSKA into a 49-42 lead before once again Olympiacos responded from outside, this time through Printezis. Olympiacos were living off pure guts and CSKA’s nerves and it didn’t look all that bad a strategy. With 10 minutes to play, CSKA led 51-47. The fight was still on.
CSKA’s success at getting to the line was making life hard on Olympiacos. On the first possession, Vassilis Spanoulis fouled Milos Teodosic while he was shooting a three and the Serbian made all three from the line. That gap was there again and Olympiacos needed an answer. They caught a lucky break as Teodosic found the bucket off an inbounds play, he was looking for a tip in with just 0.3 seconds on the shot clock. The Serbian however made sure his next effort from deep counted and now the pressure was really on the Greeks.
With an 8 point lead and just under 5 minutes to play, now was the time to see if CSKA were going to CSKA again or if that new-found faith the Moscow club has this season had truly been earned. Sasha Kaun drove inside and then Khryapa drew an offensive foul from Petway. The ghosts of Istanbul, London, and Tel Aviv were slowly fading away…
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Spanoulis was dire for 36 minutes of this game having no impact offensively. So of course finally nailed a three with 3.27 to play to cut the gap and remind CSKA of all they feared. Kostas Sloukas nailed a pair from the line and CSKA called timeout up 63-59. A wasted CSKA possession left Sloukas open for the fast break lay-up and it was back to a one-possession game. Gut-check time is the mother of understatements. CSKA had stared down situations like this three years running and failed. Spanoulis, again, from deep. Olympiacos had moved into the lead with 1.58 to play.
CSKA looked to change things up by going big with Kyle Hines coming in for Teodosic. Spanoulis didn’t give a damn as he drained a jumper to push the Greeks further ahead. Hope sprang for CSKA however as they somehow tied it up at 66-66. Yeah, then Spanoulis made another three.
When CSKA Moscow players go to bed at night their nightmares are filled with Vassilis Spanoulis leaning back and cackling as he unleashes a bomb. For the third time in four years, the men of Piraeus advanced to the championship game. For the fourth straight season, CSKA CSKA’d.