After the TOP 16 the quarterfinals playoff offered us the following duels: TAU CERAMICA against OLYMPIACOS, CSKA MOSCOW against MACCABI repeating the final of the previous year, PANATHINAIKOS against DYNAMO MOSCOW and the Spanish duel UNICAJA MALAGA against BARCELONA.
The Ceramic TAU demonstrates one more year that its place is to be among the best, Olympiacos was no rival for the Basques and these pass undefeated to the final four with two victories of great level.
Panathinaïkós climbed back up to the European Basketball Olympics thanks to its third win in the top continental competition, all from the hand of Serbian Željko Obradović, the most successful coach in European basketball, with six Euroleague titles (or former European Cup) achieved with four different teams: Partizan (1992), Joventut (1994), Real Madrid (1995) and Panathinaïkós (2000, 2002 and this 2007). The Greek team have also established themselves in Athens, their own home, despite the waste of quality, play and desire of the defending champions, CSKA Moscow, who stood up to the end, but could do nothing to stop an outstanding Greek team, touched by the muses, who made an extraordinary encounter, in particular the outer line formed by Diamantidis (MVP of the final), Chatzivrettas and Bečirovič, who literally riddled the Moscow team with a devastating efficiency. It was a wonderful, intense and even final. Although Panathinaïkos always dominated and put their opponents on several occasions against the ropes, CSKA raised a titanic opposition, coming back on several occasions and bordering on the feat of snatching the Euroleague from Panathinaïkos in a feverish Olympic Pavilion.
It was a real game in Athens, in a long final, very long (2 hours and 18 minutes) and intense, very intense (62 personal fouls), but very beautiful and even. The final result of 93-91 says it all, in a European final preceded by two semifinals of very low score and that brought out the best of the two largest in Europe, the two teams with larger budgets and better teams. The Panathinaïkós commanded throughout the game, with two anecdotal advantages of a CSKA that, however, never gave up and responded to each and every one of the attacks of a rival that on several occasions was ahead by a dozen points but had to suffer until the last minute, until a last minute in which two Langdon trebles were on the verge of giving an impossible turn to the game.
The Panathinaïkós gave an exhibition of resources, with six players in double digits and a perfect performance of their best men. Diamantidis, weighed down by personal fouls, fulfilled his role as star and MVP with 15 points and a single fault, plus complete statistics in all sections, but who really marked the differences were Ramūnas Šiškauskas (20 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists) and Dejan Tomašević (16 points). Batiste (12 points and a decisive basket at the end) and deluxe secondary players like Vujanić (12 points) and Chatzivrettas (10 points) were also present. What was experienced in Athens was a real sporting «war»: a lot of intensity, an endless number of faults, tangans and unsportsmanlike, in a spectacular game, which saw the heroic attempt of recovery of the great Theo Papaloukas (23 points and 8 assists) and company, but this time lack of the usual good performance of Andersen and Holden, unrecognizable in the Athens night.
After scant scoring in the semifinal against Tau Ceramica, Obradović said that his team would improve in this aspect in the final and return to similar figures to those achieved throughout the season. Although the match began under the same pattern of the semi-finals (very intense defense and hard work attacks with little reward scorer), the external launches of Panathinaïkós allowed the Greeks to advance in the first minutes (16-8, min. 8). However, the free kicks (5/5) and offensive rebounds gave CSKA air in the first quarter, as well as the early incorporation of the Greek Thodoris Papaloukas (the player who guaranteed a «local» champion to the fervent stands of OAKA, magnificent in color and passion). Papaloukas’ genius, a delightful basketball player, and the overwhelming intensity of Slovenian Matjaž Smodiš saved the Russians’ opener (18-17).
But the second quarter was stained one color only, the green clover of the PAO. CSKA suffered a real ordeal until half-time. The men from Obradović only missed nine field shots in the first half (11/15 of two and 4/7 in three pointers) and scored each of the personnel throws they tried (12/12). Triple to triple, the painting of Obradović was wearing down the intense defense of a CSKA unable to find the right weapon to stop the success of Chatzivrettas or the versatility of a Diamantidis bent on celebrating his birthday with a title. On the other hand, in the second quarter Panathinaïkós closed their defensive rebound better, and thus began to place a heavy slab on the shoulders of CSKA players before the break. The Russian squad missed the usual contribution of Langdon (just two points in this period) and Andersen (absolutely disappeared in combat). The frustration began to show with the tremendous anger of Smodiš, punished along with Diamantidis with a double technique when the scoreboard pointed to a new maximum (46-34), mitigated only slightly to the middle (46-36).
But the Russians have more than proved what they are capable of on a thousand and one occasions. He was left with four minutes and the magisterium of a Papaloukas in his sauce to turn around a situation that would have been lethal for many other teams. In the blink of an eye, Smodiš’s dominance of the inner game and Langdon’s resurgence translated into a 1-11 (47-47) partial to the confusion of a Panathinaïkós who watched his magnificent half-time shooting percentages gradually worsen. Next, Papaloukas knew how to force the unsporting foul -pointed to Bečirovič- that allowed the Moscow block to turn the sign of the scoreboard and return to the fight for the title with the whole game still ahead (50-51, m.24). The Euroleague began to be played again from that moment. The final acquired an impressive tension in every possession, in every pass and in every rebound. Two teams with very similar merits to win the continental crown were looking for a way to decant a balanced balance to the maximum, and Papaloukas rose as the most determined player, full of talent and intelligence on the track. The CSKA helen base, in a real state of grace, carried the weight of his team against a rival that deployed the best of their repertoire ballooncestístico (which is a lot) and again escaped on the scoreboard at the end of the third quarter (65-57) thanks to good control of the game Diamantidis.
In the last period, the fourth personal foul of Smodiš (min. 32) and a basket of the Serbian center Dejan Tomašević in the next possession tightened the rope around the Moscow neck (69-60). But Papaloukas was still determined to win for his team, and thanks to impossible penetrations and baskets he kept CSKA’s hope until the last minutes (73-69 afalta 5’45»). Panathinaïkos began to manage their advantage and, through free kicks in forced fouls, stayed ahead on the scoreboard. All seemed to be decided with two consecutive baskets of a fresh Batiste off the bench and a «2+1″ from Tomašević: 83-73 to 3’40» in the end. But CSKA still had one last bullet left, one last attempt, and with a triple of an angry Smodiš the dream was not impossible again: 83-78 minutes to3 of the end. Not even an extraordinary «2+1″ by Šiškauskas at 1’32» could defeat the Russian giant definitively: two consecutive trebles by American Trajan Langdon tightened the scoreboard to 87-85 with 51 seconds to go. Batiste’s reverse gave Panathinaïkós a little margin (89-85), and in the next possession Smodiš missed one of his two free throws (89-86 with 21.5 seconds remaining). Luck had already been cast in favour of a Panathinaïkós who, despite the enormous arsenal of attacking and defensive resources deployed, had to suffer to the last second due to the tireless spirit of CSKA.