If tonight’s Panathinaikos-Olympiacos match isn’t the most important game thus far in the 2010-11 basketball season in Europe, BiE can’t think of what would be. Of no little significance in this clash of the titans, too, is its status as the first meeting between the teams since the 2009-10 EΣAKE championship final game, a.k.a. “The Night of Shame.”
Since closing out last season with the forfeit, the franchises have taken different paths in 2010-11, but are enjoying most enviable success in pursuit of both Greek and Euroleague titles: The Greens and Reds have turned in identical records in Greek League play at 11-0 (though Panathinaikos is listed atop the table with its superior +32.5 *per game* point differential against Olympiacos’ +20.4) as well as mirror 7-3 marks in the EL. They’ll be playing tonight not to break the tie in the EΣAKE, but also their no. 2 standing in BiE’s Top 100.
Different paths, indeed … while Panathinaikos was mostly able to take a Barçaesque approach in the offseason and essentially maintain its 2009-10 roster (swell addition in Romain Sato notwithstanding), the Angelopoulos Brothers pulled off the coup of Greece’s free agency period when they signed longtime Green Vassilis Spanoulis to play for Olympiacos while jettisoning the big-bucks likes of Josh Childress, Linas Kleiza and Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Spanoulis-to-Olympiacos wasn’t quite Lebron-to-Miami, but this is probably because V-Span didn’t get a TV show.
(Incidentally, Sport.gr is running a nice piece by Costas Papantoniou on notable players – 12 in all! – who jumped from Greens to Reds or vice versa: Arian Komazec; former Team USSR/Team Ukraine forward Sasha Volkov; former KK Split/Boston Celtic stud Dino Radja; Nikos Boudouris; serious journeyman Damir Mulaomerović; Nikos Economou; Andreas Glyniadakis, currently with Olympiacos; Ian Vougioukas, currently with Panathinaikos; Žarko Paspalj, he of Drazen Petrovic’ Team Yugoslavia; Johnny Rogers, who did back-to-back three- and four-year stints with Oly and PAO, respectively; Dimitrios Papanikolaou; Team Croatia’s Andrija Žižić; and Patrick Femerling, “The clumsy German center [who] played for both teams, but went unnoticed by both!”)
Resulting from the Spanoulis switchover and related offseason transactions is a backcourt-centric Reds squad that represents a fundamental switch from last year’s reliance on jumpshooting swingmen and the game underneath. Panathinaikos’ offense, meanwhile, starts with its own stud guard Dimitris Diamantidis and finishes with 87.6 points per game in 2010-11 (and an insane 94.4 per in Greece).
While many eyes will be on Spanoulis – surely Greens fans are a bit nervous as the guard is turning in a career year for Olympiacos – and Diamantidis, a third key player to watch will be the Reds’ Marko Keselj. Keselj is still suffering from the effects of an ankle injury and stated yesterday he “hopes to be ready” for tonight’s game. “This is the most important game of my career at club level so far,” declared the young Serbian in Greek press. In NBAspeak, then, call Keselj “probable.”
As for the ol’ 13th man, Greek newspapers have reported that PAO fans are preparing signage “with Spanoulis’ face” on them, though the actual content (one can only imagine) was not revealed.
Panathinaikos-Olympiacos tips off at 9pm CET (3pm EST) tonight. Suggestions on live streams are appreciated; BiE’ll try to post some websites for watching later today.