Fenerbahce were made to work for it but eventually, with the help of an unexpected intervention by Pero Antic, they romped to victory over Olympiacos as the Euroleague Final Four and the season as a whole came to a conclusion with a new name on the trophy. Emmet Ryan, on a memorable night in Istanbul
The Sinan Erdem Dome was an oven well before these sides took the floor. Even during the third place game the throngs of Fenerbahce and Olympiacos filled the arena and brought the temperature way up. The flames for the intro only added to the choking atmosphere here. Oly’s players were, naturally, greeted with whistles for every intro while the roars rang out for the Fener players. This day had already felt like it had gone on forever, with the wait for the only game that really matters near intolerable. Now, finally, with moments to go, we were about to get the match-up we were salivating over.
The threes came raining down for Fenerbahce early with Nikola Kalinic bagging two and Bobby Dixon another. Even when they missed from deep, Fener had fortune on their side as a Bogdan Bogdanovic miss was hammered home by Jan Vesely on the put-back.
Vassilis Spanoulis settled the nerves for Oly with a three. The Reds knew Fener were going to come out like a train, it was a matter of surviving that initial onslaught before seeing if they could go toe to toe in this fight. They stepped up the pressure on Dixon forcing him to adjust and adjust repeatedly before eventually finding an open Bogdanovic for a score from deep. If Fener were going to run at them, Oly wanted to make them run themselves out. The Reds limited the damage, trailing 26-18 at the end of the first.
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The Olympiacos second string brought a fresh look to thing to start the second half as the unit of Erick Green-Dominic Waters-Ioannis Papapetreu-Dimitris Agravanis-Nikola Milutinov quickly ate into Fener’s lead. Oly’s ability to get real contributions off the bench has been the story of their season so far and they were getting the job done here. The sting was taken out of the initial Fener surge.
Fener adjusted by going for their mid size line-up, with James Nunnally at the 3, and after a frustrating couple of possessions Bogdan restored order from deep. As the half wore on Oly’s ability to win 50/50 balls but inability to do anything with them was starting to show. The Reds just had to get more clinical if they were going to bring serious pressure here.
They got a break towards the end of the half when Bogdanovic, who was performing effectively as an aggressive scoring option, picked up his third and had to sit. Oly managed to go in down a very manageable 39-34.
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At the half you could feel the lull. That tension of Oly being right where they felt comfortable. Fener were ahead but they were letting Olympiacos hang around. When Mantzaris made his third three from three attempts, it was starting to feel like the classic counter-punching comeback we’re used to with the Reds.
Fenerbahce however weren’t in the mood to just lie back and let Oly run at them. The Istanbul club had to grind it and grind they did, with Vesely taking every lump he had to inside. The rotation Oly had at the 5 was continuing to grind, with Milutinov find ample room inside. Ekpe Udoh, the hero on Friday night was playing conservative but effective ball, keeping his strength for the latter stages and playing the creator where possible.
That lighter touch approach from Udoh began to pay off and the arena erupted as Pero Antic took the floor. The former Olympiacos man wasn’t expected to see the floor when it matter but his sheer presence seemed to lift the side. Antic’s arrival was swiftly followed by a Gigi Datome three to put 13 points between the sides. Then Bogdan came back. Oly had failed to make his absence count. Two blocks from Udoh to close the quarter gave Fenerbahce a 12 point lead and just 10 minutes from glory.
Having brought his tougher game face when it mattered, Udoh’s name rang around the Sinan Erdem Dome as the final quarter got under way. Whatever fears Fener may have had entering those closing stages were quickly erased as they turned the screw at both ends. Datome from deep and then another from Antic pushed Fenerbahce into a whopping 18 point lead. Vesely turned cheerleader to sput on the crowd as the red corner fell deathly quiet.
Even the rim was going Fener’s way as another Kalinic three took forever to go in and that was swiftly followed by a finger wag inducing block by Udoh at the other end. The only question at this stage was whether Obradovic would give his scrubs some time on the floor. Anthony Bennett and Melih Mahmutoglu got their moment. Fenerbahce had climbed the mountain to become 2017 Euroleague champions.