Olympiacos went old school to down Real Madrid
So far this season, Olympiacos Piraeus has largely launched its challenge for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title through the league’s most potent offense, surpassing 80 points on 15 occasions and topping the league in points, assists, two-point shooting accuracy and Performance Index Rating.
But in Friday’s Round 20 showdown against Real Madrid at a sold-out Peace and Friendship Stadium, Georgios Bartzokas’s players thrilled their fans by winning 73-60 to create a four-way tie at the top of the standings. Perhaps one of the things that will have pleased Coach Bartzokas most is the way that his team earned the win the old-school way: through hard-fought defense.
Right from the opening tipoff, the Reds swarmed all over Los Blancos, as the visiting team were never able to find their offensive rhythm and failed to score 20 points in any of the four quarters. The more the game progressed, the more Real struggled to find gaps in the Olympiacos defense. Chus Mateo’s team consequently found itself increasingly left in an uncomfortable position of having to force possessions and take on unpromising shots at the basket.
The Spanish side particularly suffered from long range, converting only 3 of its 25 three-point attempts, with Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull missing 5 and 6 apiece. And very few of those three-point misses were open looks. Rather, many of them were desperation attempts when no other options were available. Only Walter Tavares was able to register decent shooting percentages, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 two-point shooting, but 8 of those points came in the first quarter. After that, even Tavares was left powerless in the face of determined defense from first Moustapha Fall and then Tarik Black.
The outcome was an end to Real’s three-game winning streak, and by far the lowest points tally of the season for a team which came into the game ranking second in scoring, only behind Olympiacos itself. Its previous low was a 68-point night in a 64-68 win over FC Bayern Munich.
At the end of the action, a triumphant Bartzokas was very clear about exactly why his team had prevailed, explaining: “The key of the game was that we allowed only 60 points to such a talented offensive team; not even 20 points in any quarter. We were really solid defensively. Everybody did his job, we didn’t give anything easy to them, and we managed to win the game against a team that is a very strong competitor for the league.
“Everyone understands that it was a crucial game. I have to say that the team, the players, in this challenge they had in front of them, were ready to play. Through our defense, we controlled the pace of the game.”
This approach is true to the long-held traditions of Olympiacos, which has always prided itself on hard-nosed defense and gained back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 – the latter of those coming under the leadership of Bartzokas – by doing exactly that. And although the new era of Olympiacos – following the retirement of club greats Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis – has shown a rather different, offensive-minded face, Friday’s win over Real showed that when it really matters, the Reds can still get back to basics and grind it out with the best of them.