Thursday (5:00pm UK) at Belgrade’s Štark Arena, Olympiakos and Turkish side Anadolu Efes square off in the first of two EuroLeague semifinals, with a showdown in the final against the winner of FC Barcelona v Real Madrid.
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Where to watch Olympiakos vs Anadolu Efes on TV:
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- US: FloSports (with paid subscription)
For reasons having nothing to do with basketball, the road to the 35th EuroLeague Final Four of the modern era had a couple of unexpected twists. The expulsion of three Russian sides opened up three spots in the eight-team EuroLeague playoffs, which were filled by Turkish side Anadolu Efes, AS Monaco and Bayern Munich. Thus, the top two teams in the bracket – FC Barcelona and Olympiakos – were theoretically presented an even easier road than expected to the Final Four. Theoretically.
Both notched comfortable double-digit in their openers and looked ready to breeze through that first round. Then, on that casual stroll to victory, a funny thing happened. Those teams that were lucky just to be there started to push back. Emphatically.
In the case of #2 seed Olympiakos, it was Monaco, who responded to a 17-point hammering in the opener in Athens with an emphatic 24-point blowout win. In France, the Greek champions secured a tight Game 3 win, but were pushed to the limit after Monaco answered back with a one-point win of their own. Even in the decisive fifth game back in Athens, Monaco led until well into the fourth quarter before succumbing by six.
Leading the way for Olympiakos – who come into this game with a clean bill of health – have been 32-year-old point guard Kostas Sloukas, 26-year-old Cypress-born Bulgarian big man Aleksandar Vezenkov and US-born naturalized Azerbaijani small forward Shaquielle “Shaq” O’Neal McKissic.
In the Final Four, Olympiakos square off against 15-time Turkish Super Lig champions – and the defending EuroLeague champs – Anadolu Efes. The Istanbul-based side have suffered through a lacklustre season by their own standards, finishing second domestically (though they are still alive in the playoffs) and sixth in the EuroLeague among eligible teams, with a record of just 16-12 (five losses in their final eleven games), having allowed a subpar almost-80 points per game.
However, Efes steadied the ship impressively in the opening round against Olimpia Milano. They allowed just 48 points in a 16-point Game 1 win on the road in the opener. After dropping the second, held serve in Istanbul to close out the series in four games, during which they only allowed an average of 64 points per game.
Leading the way for Efes against Milano – and key to victory in Belgrade – were US-born (now naturalised Turkish) point guard Shane Larkin (formerly of the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets in the NBA – star Serbian guard (and winner of both the EuroLeague MVP and the Final Four MVP last year) Vasilije Micić and sharp-shooting big man (7-foot-3!) and 2022 Turkish Cup Final MVP Tibor Pleiss.
Olympiakos predicted starting lineup: Thomas Walkup, Tyler Dorsey, Kostas Papanikolaou, Aleksandar Vezenkov, Moustapha Fall
Anadolu Efes predicted starting lineup: Shane Larkin, Vasilije Micić, Elijah Bryant, Adrien Moerman, Tibor Pleiss
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Despite their struggles earlier in the season, Efes have impressively found their form in the season’s latter stages, narrowly finishing second in the Turkish league, winning the Turkish Cup and, of course, reaching the EuroLeague Final Four.
At this point, it seems advisable we (as the bookmakers have) acknowledge that the underperformance is no more, and this is a genuine contender. Given the single-game elimination format of the Final Four, the top-end talent on the roster and form superior to that of Olympiakos, Efes looks the likelier team to advance to Saturday’s final against the winner of Barcelona-Real Madrid – given Efes’ recent uptick in defensive form, perhaps with a lean toward a combined score under 156.5.