As is tradition on this site, we’re taking the playoffs in reverse order. Emmet Ryan is going to take on each series over the next four days to give his take on who makes it to Istanbul. Up now it’s the clash of Olympiacos and Anadolu Efes
Considering how balanced Oly have been all year, to the point that third place looked a likely finishing spot pretty early on in the season, it’s worth noting the outliers in the campaign. Galatasaray went 2-0 over the Greek champions in the regular season. Bamberg schooled them in the road game. Maccabi managed to win in the SEF and Milano, the utterly dreadful excuse for a top tier basketball team Milano, utterly whupped them in the forum. This was a strange road to a 19-11 season, capped off by the Reds turning off the engines for the tail end of the season and dropping their final three games as they focused on the playoffs. Once home court was secured, Olympiacos pretty much stopped caring. That’s fine, it gave them a chance to rest up and pay more attention to their domestic campaign. Still makes for curious reading.
As for Efes. Well they were so Efes for most of the year, the most Efes they were was in a loss against Barcelona. Then, when it really mattered, they stopped being what we all expect from Efes and got down to business. A run of 8 wins in 9 games managed to sandwich a game where they got battered in Bamberg (wahey, theme…also, so very Efes) removed all doubt and made them look more like what their roster actually reads heading into the post-season. This is a good basketball team with serious talent. A year ago, the roster looked like one designed to challenge seriously for Euroleague honours and it’s not so different now in terms of talent. The difference is Efes gave us a season and a half to build up doubt in their ability to turn that corner.
The SEF is not a fun place to go to, that’s obvious, but despite playing it cautious down the stretch Olympiacos still have issues going into these playoffs. Matt Lojeski has gone down, so too has Khem Birch. Those are significant losses to an Oly side that has prided itself on its ability to share the load. The good news is the Vassilis Spanoulis project this season appears to have worked well. V-Span was deliberately used less than usual to keep him fresh and there’s little reason to doubt he is in optimal shape for this series. That was the objective before the season started and the mission appears accomplished.
Efes are going to scare the holy hell out of this Oly side. I have zero doubt of that, they’re good enough to really push Olympiacos to the limit. If you want to pick one series where both sides could record road wins, this is it. That particular outcome is unlikely but I’m still backing this series to go the distance. The only question is who stays standing at the final horn in the SEF of Game 5.
Fearless prediction: Olympiacos win 3-2