Euroleague Title Game Recap
The green-clad Greeks win a thriller.
NBA fans have been treated to some thrilling playoff games recently and their European cousins were not to be outdone. After two very close semi-final contests on Friday, Sunday’s Euroleague championship came down to the last shot in a packed O2 World arena in Berlin.
The CSKA Moscow-Panathinaikos final was a true match up of European dynasties. This year marks CSKA’s seventh-straight trip to the Final Four, including titles in 2006 and 2008. However, Panathinaikos has proven to have their number, beating them in the 2007 final for their fourth title since 1996. This had the makings of a steel cage grudge match.
The prospects of a heart stopping finish didn’t even seem remotely possible in the early going. Spurred on by the always boisterous Greek crowd (they didn’t stop clapping, chanting and singing in unison the whole game), Panathinaikos came out guns-a-blazin’. By the end of the first quarter they had built a 21-16 lead, with bruising big man Nikola Pekovic muscling in six points and putting numerous CSKA big men into foul trouble. He was complimented from the outside by former Houston Rocket Vassilis Spanoulis, who contributed seven to the scoreboard.
Second verse, same as the first. Eight-straight Panathinaikos points near the start of the second quarter pushed the lead to 31-19. The Greeks were on fire from outside and smothering on defense, leading CSKA to rush numerous shots as the shot clock expired. As usual their defense was quarterbacked by Dimitris Diamantidis, the five-time Euroleague Defender of the Year.
It all added up to a blowout at the half — 48-28 Panathinaikos. The Greeks unbelievably deep guard rotation did a number on the Muscovites, as Diamantidis, Spanoulis, Drew Nicholas and Sarunas Jasikevicius combined for 31 points. The only CSKA player that seemed to come to play was point guard J.R. Holden, who had 12 points. The Greeks outshot CSKA from outside eight three-pointers to none.
The second half started with another Panathinaikos three-pointers, with Jasikevicius knocking it down. But, rather than conceding defeat, the defending champs fought back behind the strong play of last year’s Final Four MVP, Trajan Langdon. Langdon outscored Panathinaikos by himself in the quarter, 11 to 8, leading to a 10-point game heading into the last 10 minutes.
CSKA started playing desperate to start of the 4th, grabbing loose balls and offensive rebounds and was able to cut the lead down to four with just under a minute to go. Ramunas Siskauskas, who was mostly invisible for CSKA throughout the game, came alive in the last minute, forcing Diamantidis into a eight-second halfcourt violation and then knocked in a tough three to cut the lead to one. After the teams traded free throws, CSKA was forced to send to the line Jasikevicius, the Euroleague’s all-time leader in free throw percentage. And he promptly went and missed his first free one. After knocking down the second, CSKA had 5.8 seconds to try to tie — or win — the game. And win it they almost did, as a contested, buzzer-beating three from Siskauskas just rimmed out.
Panathinaikos is your 2009 Euroleague champion, their coach, Zeljko Obradovic, is now a seven-time champ and Jasikevicius becomes the first player to win Euroleague titles with three different teams. Spanoulis earned the MVP trophy with 13 points for the victors. It didn’t take the champs long to make good use of the stein-shaped championship trophies they were awarded, as the champagne started flowing.