Euro Final Four Recap

Mon, 05/04/2009 - 9:53am
Walking up to Berlin's O2 World Arena, you could easily mistake it for any stadium found in the NBA. It is a large and beautiful building located in a spot that not only allows easy access by various modes of transportation, but it is also perfectly placed so that it is visible from all sides of the city.

O2 World Arena


However, as far as the comparisons go between this venue and the ones that are found in the NBA, they stop here. Once at the entrance, you realize that the security guards are a lot bigger, they look more dangerous and there is a lot more of them here than anywhere in North America.

This is when you realize what the Euro Final Four experience is really made up of. The fans of Barcelona, CSKA, Olympiacos and Panathanaikos are all provided with a specific gate, and their area in the arena is precisely defined by the security guards wearing orange. This way the organizers make sure that no contact is made between the opposing groups, thus ensuring the safety of not only the fans of these teams, but also the neutral ones as well as the players.

In the arena, you find out that no coins are allowed inside as well as no keys. If you made the mistake and brought either, you can leave them at the designated areas and pick them up at the end. The items available for purchase inside are mostly in 5 euro denominations, but if you somehow do order something that requires change, you end up getting a green paper ticket, which you can exchange for coins once the game is done.


O2 World Arena

Before the game begins, the atmosphere is somewhat similar to the one found in the NBA. The players are warming up and the music is playing on the sound system. As the clock nears game time and more fans swarm in, things begin to change. Over the music that is blasting from the speakers, you begin to hear the songs that the loyal fans are signing for their beloved team. Once the introductions start, these songs get louder… then tipoff…and all hell breaks loose.

People talk about home court advantage in the NBA, but I believe that in many instances the atmosphere created in North America is fabricated. Much of the noise is inspired by the sound system that urges the crowd to chant D – FENSE. There are tacky gimmicks which at times are not representative of the fan’s true love for their teams and the game.

There is no secret that basketball has turned into entertainment, but the NBA has taken this to the next level by completely dictating the behavior and the cheering of the fans.

Even though the fans here in Berlin were somewhat constrained by not being allowed to bring their usual firecrackers, flame makers, noisemakers, huge flags, etc., they did not allow that to stop them. Once the songs began, they did not stop until well after the games were done.

It was obvious that the Panathanaikos and Olympiacos fans had more rage than CSKA and Barcelona, and this was evident by the back and forth chanting that was going on before they even squared off. For every song one side had, the other side had a reply… and back and forth they went until the eventual winner was realized.

Home court in Europe? Now that is more like it. Even at a neutral site where the number of fans from a particular side is limited, it is evident that the emotion brought by the fans directly transfers over to the court. When they start to sing, whistle, yell, jump, bang the drums, make obscene gestures – all out of real passion – everybody in the arena feels it, including the players. Real home court advantage is about loyalty, tradition and fans being there for their team, showing their emotions and truly caring for the outcome of the game. When it comes to home court advantage, devotion to the team will win every time. Fans in the USA have the passion down, but they haven't perfected the art of the chant like European soccer and basketball fans.

Thoughts on the games…

Semifinal #1 Regal FC Barcelona vs CSKA Moscow

Nikola Pekovic


Thanks to hot shooting from outside, the game started out in Barcelona’s favor, but it is a shame that one of the best players in the Euroleague was not allowed to play his game because of the referee’s quick whistle. Juan Carlos Navarro picked up his 3rd foul in the first half and even though he made some plays down the stretch it was obvious his rhythm was off and that he could not control the game like he is used to. David Andersen looked very good, showing his soft touch from around the hoop as well as from deep. For CSKA, Trajan Langdon did what he usually does, scoring from different spots using his sweet stroke and court savvy.

With all that said, this game ended up being a one man show, belonging to Ramunas Siskauskas. He came off the bench and did very little in the early going; he looked passive and almost as if the game was too fast for him. At the end of the 1st half he had played 11 minutes and scored 4 points. Then he woke up and decided to take the game over and carry his team to the finals. If you think that Euro ball is not about iso play, watch the last 15 minutes of this game. Almost every time down the court, Siskauskas had the ball in his hands and it was up to him to create. At one stretch in the fourth quarter, he scored 13 points straight, hitting 3 contested threes, finishing with a difficult drive to the hoop, and drawing contact on another play and converting 2 free throws. His game is not about athleticism and explosiveness, but rather about misdirection and craftiness. He uses fading runners, up and unders, stepbacks, jab crossovers, all to make his defender guess, and usually guess wrong. Siskauskas definitely looks like he has passed his prime and that he has lost a step or two, but for this one game he put up a performance that will be remember for a long time.

Semi Final #2 Olympiacos vs Panathinaikos

This game had a bit of that nostalgic feel to it as well, with Theodoros Papaloukas and Sarunas Jasikevicius both playing at the top of their games. However, it came down to the size and youth of Panathinaikos and the disappearance of the American players for Olympiacos. Jannero Pargo started the game, played 3 minutes, picked up 2 quick fouls and did not return. Josh Childress had an OK game, but he was not given the multimillion dollar contract to put up decent performances in the biggest games. He is having serious problems with his outside shot, and the sagging defenses are making it very difficult for him to attack the hoop. Lynn Greer looked like he was ready to take this game over after scoring 15 points in the first half, yet he was a non factor in the 2nd half, only managing to add 3 more to his total.

Panathinaikos’ inside duo of Nikola Pekovic and Mike Batiste was too much for Olympiacos to handle. They were simply too big and too strong and once they caught the ball anywhere near the basket it was pretty much as good as 2 points on the board. It was interesting to see that except for a short time in the 2nd half, Olympiacos decided to stay away from double teaming. The reds also had trouble defending the pick and roll with either Jasikevicius or Vassilis Spanoulis; usually having their bigs getting caught on the switch, the Pana guards were able to get into the paint at will where they made terrific decisions (including the game winning hoop that came of a P&R from Jasikevicius to Pekovic).

3rd Place Game Olympiacos vs FC Barcelona

A somewhat uninspired contest by both of the teams, not surprisingly since both lost heart breakers two nights before. From the get go it was obvious that neither

Childress and Pargo

Josh Childress nor Jannero Pargo would be in the lineup as they were sitting behind the bench in street clothes. Not much was said about either of them missing the game, but one would have to think that two of Olympiacos’ highest paid players would try to push through fatigue and minor injuries even it was a meaningless game. Without reading into it too much, it could be the beginning of the end for these two (with Olympiacos), but we will know for sure more once the league play resumes in Greece.

Judging the talent as far as NBA potential, it was a bit of a disappointing game in that aspect. Georgios Printezis showed that even though he works very hard on both ends of the floor, he is limited in terms of athleticism and his ability to score the ball. Milos Teodosic got some playing time, but his game is all about shooting from the outside, which he struggles to do consistently. Both Fran Vasquez and Ersan Ilyasova played decently, but did not show enough here to be highly coveted by NBA teams.

Carlos Navarro showed nice ability to get into the lane, but he struggled finding his shot and this caused the rest of his game to suffer. He is fairly good at setting up teammates when he wants to, but he has a scorer’s mentality, which means that he will continue to shoot until they start falling. This works for him in the Euroleague as he was just awarded the Player of the Year award, but head coaches in the NBA have far less patience with streaky shooters who bring very little on the defensive end. There is no doubt that he has the necessary skills to play in the NBA, but he might be better off playing the role of star in Europe, rather than playing second fiddle amongst the big boys.

Championship Game Panathinaikos vs CSKA Moscow

The Pana fans started chanting hours before the championship started and they continued long into the night. Thanks to the incredible outside shooting from Panathinaikos and the exact opposite from CSKA, this game seemed to be out of reach by halftime. Only it wasn’t meant to be like that, the reds have way


too much pride to go down so easily. They came back from a lead that appeared unsurmountable trailing by 20 at the half and 56-33 in the 3rd, at which point they went on a 13-0 run. They showed the resolve to mount a serious comeback and even had a Siskauskas 3 point attempt at the end to win it, but it just wasn’t meant to be. They had dug themselves too big of a hole and they fell a shot short losing 73-71, but they still put on a show that proved this Final 4 will go down as one of the best.

For Panathinaikos it was a joint effort in the finals, while nobody really exploded, a number of guys made big plays in crucial moments to lead them to victory. Jasikevicius continued to hit big shots from deep, Diamantidis almost completely took Siskauskas out of this game, Spanoulis mixed it up a bit with his drives and penetrations. The one surprising performance was by Stratos Perperoglou who made big shots down the stretch.

Speaking of NBA potential, the two players that have some potential are Nikola Pekovic and Spanoulis. Pekovic was named 1st team Euroleague and seems to have the right package to become a superstar in Europe, but as far as the NBA is concerned he has major holes. He is strictly confined to the paint and almost always goes to his left shoulder when making moves. His size and strength allow him to be very effective just using these two attributes, but when he meets the bigger 5 men in the NBA, his moves will not work as well. His understanding of the game is still developing, as he struggles defending the pick and roll and he also gets lost in the offensive sets. A few years down the road, with more polish and maturation (and an added jumper) he could become a valuable role player in the league.

Spanoulis offensively looks like he has all the tools to earn playing time in the NBA, however, his problem is his size and the fact that he moves like a bucket of tar on defense. Most Europeans have this problem of being allergic to defense, but in Spanoulis’ case it seems like doesn’t even bother.

He ended up being voted the MVP of the Final Four, but there were definitely 3 or 4 four guys just as deserving. Although, my vote for the MVP would not go to a player, but rather to the Panathinaikos cheering section, because (just like 2 years ago in Athens) if you were there, you know the huge influence that they had on the outcome.
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Lynn Greer looked

He is having serious problems with his outside shot, and the sagging defenses are making it very difficult for him to attack the hoop. Lynn Greer looked like he was ready to take this game over after scoring 15 points in the first half, travesti yet he was a non factor in the 2nd half, only managing to add 3 more to his total.

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