Game 1 of the Greek Finals got under way tonight, eventually. Emmet Ryan writes about how Olympiacos drew first blood in Piraeus against Panathinaikos.
There was a delay to tip-off in Piraeus tonight. We’re used to issues around the Derby of Eternal Enemies, the name should really be a hint, but this seemed like a case of getting the retaliation in first.
— Slam N' Roll (@slamnroll) June 7, 2015
Explaining this to non-sports fans this eveving, the description went along these lines:
Olympiacos is a sportsball club in a suburb of Athens called Piraeus (yes it’s not technically a suburb but give me some latitude here, it was Facebook chat)
They have a rivalry with another sportsball club called Panathinaikos from Athens
Twice in the last 5 years Olympiacos fans rioted to end a basketball game between both in their home stadium
Today they are meant to be playing again in the same place
The game has been delayed because fans burnt out a referees car outside the arena
I tell you this because all of these events happened at a sportsball location called…
The Peace and Friendship Stadium
There is no doubt that Olympiacos’ home ground, better known as the SEF, is the most ironically named in sports. It is, naturally, a minority of fans behind the nonsense but it does make covering from afar a little challenging. On the upside, at least the lights worked right there. The Italian league semi-final game in Venezia this evening wasn’t so lucky.
Anyway the basketball itself, well the first half was painfully familiar for this derby in recent years. When the Reds and Greens collide on the court both play with a paranoid fear of fast breaks. They seem happy to sacrifice any kind of coherent offence just to ensure the other team doesn’t leg it up the other end of the court and make an easy basket. Offensively this was beyond challenging and the first 20 minutes were pretty painful to watch.
Fortunately for all neutral observers the Reds, who had been anaemic from deep in the first half (they opened 0/10 from behind the arc), finally managed to open things up. The run forced Panathinaikos to respond, they never cut it back to a single possession situation but crucially it could change the tempo of the whole series.
These are two of the most storied clubs in the sport, fuelled in part by their need to keep battling with one another for dominance of this rivalry. They don’t have the wealth or talent they once had but they simply don’t need to conservatise like this. It’s an insult to defence to call what happens when these sides typically make defensively minded ball, it’s just plain scared. The fear of defeat is such that neither side seems willing to take a gamble to win.
The Reds, who were the pre-match favoured team, won tonight because they finally realised that by actually trying to push things offensively, they could catch the Greens napping. It worked, it woke up Panathinaikos and it is the type of lesson that will carry over to Game 2 on Wednesday. Naturally, winning the title is all that matters but the least reliable way to do that is to ignore your identity as a basketball team. The history is why we tune in to these games, the potential for greatness on the court is why we don’t switch off. It’s only one game but the seeds of a series with the power to be great were sewn in those 20 minutes. It’s just going to require some bravery on the floor.