Credit: Olympiacos BC
Credit Olympiacos BC

Following Olympiacos's biggest-ever EuroLeague win over Panathinaikos at OAKA, the Reds' coach Giorgos Bartzokas was clear about his feelings.

"We were ahead all along. Although Panathinaikos came close, we recovered, staying loyal to our game plan. Merry Christmas to everyone - and especially to the fans of Olympiacos," the Greek coach said without concealing his joy.

Player of the Game
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
Aleksandr Vezenkov
Points 14
Accuracy 5-8
Rebounds 5
Assists 4

That last quote resonates with what Bartzokas said before the derby. "If we beat Panathinaikos, we will enjoy a Merry Christmas." Well, now it's a fact.

Thirty-one days after the Greens had shocked their eternal rival in Piraeus, forcing them to their first - and only thus far- home loss in the season, Bartzokas had every reason to smile.

Not only because Olympiacos were up throughout the entire game, as he said, but also because his team reacted when Panathinaikos came within three points (51-54) at the end of the third quarter.

This time, Olympiacos did not yield, as it happened in the Greek League derby.

"The game was just as we expected it to be," Bartzokas carried on. "We were consistent defensively for 40 minutes. We gave Panathinaikos the opportunity to get into the game. They hit some tough shots."

The hosts found ways to trap their opponents, starting from half-time overture up to the game's final stretch. For it to happen, Panathinaikos had to put their "beloved" zone defense aside and surprise the Reds with a strong man-on-man that took Kostas Sloukas out of the game and bridged the gap.

Olympiacos allowed the Greens to come closer at the end of the first half as Bartzokas selected a squad with little to no external threat (McKissic, Papanikolaou, Printezis, Martin) or without a true point-guard when Kostas Slouklas and Thomas Walkup sat on the bench next to each other.

And yet, the scoreboard read 65-84, in favor of the team that recorded 1/10 on three-pointers in the third period and received six blocks.

Shaquielle McKissic

Shaquielle  McKissic
Team: Olympiakos Piraeus
Position: SG
Age: 31
Height: 196 cm
Weight: 96 kg
Birth place: Seattle, United States of America

"Olympiacos clearly played better than us," Panathinaikos's coach Dimitris Priftis admitted.

"We approached the game the wrong way, had a bad offensive day, and made some good decisions only in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, we made some stupid mistakes that created a big deficit that doesn't do us justice."

Panathinaikos had a very limited rotation, four players (Nedovic, White, Papapetrou, Papagiannis) staying on the court for at least 29 minutes and, as it turned out, they ran out of steam.

At the same time, Bartzokas didn't even bother to give Livio Jean-Charles and Michalis Lountzis any playing time, while veteran Giorgos Printezis only logged six minutes.

"Obviously, we feel bad because we didn't give our fans back the support that they gave us. That's why I'm sad by the way we collapsed in the fourth quarter," Priftis added.

Fans in this derby are a chapter of their own. The official EuroLeague count stopped at 11.700, but that number had little to do with the real one which approached 14.000. It was -by far- the largest crowd ever gathered in a Greek arena in the pandemic era (since March 2020).

Die-hard PAO supporters - albeit not seated most of the time- had already taken their seats at least 90 minutes before tip-off, impatiently waiting for friends and foes to come out of their locker rooms. Fans could be heard chanting from the OAKA parking area, located at a 100-meter distance from the installation.

Credit Vangelis Stolis

As it happened at the Peace and Friendship Stadium when the two teams locked horns almost a month ago, a protective net was placed around the court area for the visiting team and game officials to avoid any flying objects.

Of course, the home fans made extensive use of laser pointers, even during warm-up, but despite the outcome, most of them left OAKA only after the final buzzer.

"The fans of Panathinaikos are awesome, I like the atmosphere here. Greek derbies keep me alive," an ecstatic Shaquielle McKissic told Greek broadcaster NOVASPORTS.

"It's nice to play in a hot atmosphere. We play basketball so people can watch," Sasha Vezenkov pointed out.

However, there's a shadow hanging over Greek sports. Come next week, the government is expected to impose another lockdown on indoor and outdoor sports activities, including basketball games.

The measure will have an almost immediate effect, starting from January 3. This means that the upcoming Olympiacos-CSKA and Panathinaikos-Zalgiris contests will probably be the last ones held in Greece with fans in the stands - at least for the foreseeable future.

"Let's see whether we're going to have fans on our side and how the pandemic will evolve. It will be difficult without them," Vezenkov admitted.

In any case, over 100 Olympiacos fans waited for the team to arrive at the parking lot situated in front of the Peace and Friendship Stadium to give Giorgos Bartzokas and his players the royal treatment.

In the Greek coach's eyes, the whole scenery must have looked pretty ironic since that was exactly the place where he was verbally attacked by rabid fans, following the Reds' defeat to PAO for the Greek Cup in October 2014. One day later, Bartzokas handed in his resignation, and soon, the Giannis Sfairopoulos era came to place.

But those times seem very far removed from current Olympiacos' reality. Right now, the three-time EuroLeague champs are having a great season on all fronts, and the future looks bright.

"I have to give credit to my players for today's performance and for what they have done in the first round," Bartzokas said. Three away wins (Armani Milan, UNICS Kazan, Panathinaikos) and a perfect 9-0 at home. What else can one ask for?

"No game ends in the second quarter. Some players have a special motivation but get carried away by excitement," Bartzokas noted. "When we say we should control our emotions, that's what we mean. You have to be cynical in a game like this to avoid risky decisions."

"Our record is good enough, but as a team, we will have to start from scratch. Now, we play CSKA at home. Those wins have whetted our appetite for more," Sloukas uttered.

"We are happy, but nothing ends in December. Good teams usually stand out from January onwards," Vezenkov argued. 

The Sloukas-Vezenkov combo accounted for 30 points on 11/17 field goals, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists. In the Greek League game, both missed crucial shots and free throws, which could have changed the outcome. Obviously, that's water under the bridge.

Credit Olympiacos BC

"We certainly prepared ourselves appropriately without thinking about what has happened in the past. We played very well for 30 minutes. In the third quarter, we were bad, Panathinaikos caught us off-guard, but we made some big shots and won", Vezenkov explained with plain simplicity.

Much was made of Priftis's zone defense which failed to work any miracles this time. Olympiacos didn't shoot great, but just decently (13/37 from deep), which proved more than enough to dismantle the Greens' shaky backbone.

"We punished the zone defense that caused us a lot of problems in the league game," Sloukas commented. 

"When you have no energy, and you are not in the condition you should be, whatever tactics you're following is irrelevant. If you don't put in pressure and energy, a negative result will come," PAO guard Lefteris Bochoridis told NOVASPORTS.

At Panathinaikos, Cuban forward Howard Sant-Roos is down with COVID. Although the club hasn't announced him as the player infected, he was left out of the squad on Thursday night.

Sant-Roos is the man who closes countless holes on defense, however, the hosts got some of the hustle they needed in the face of Bochoridis.

Credit Vangelis Stolis

The 28-year-old finished with 6 points and 5 rebounds, but his team is not showing any signs of improvement. Panathinaikos remain next-to-bottom (17th) in the standings, having suffered several blowouts.

"Our record is bad (4-12), but the worst thing is how we've played in some games," Bochoridis conceded. "We promised that we would give everything, but we have not kept our promise so far. We have to fight for that jersey."

Priftis didn't hide that Panathinaikos starting games badly remains one of the main problems: "It clearly troubles me," he said.

Following the departures of Yogi Ferrell and Jehyve Floyd, Panathinaikos are left with six non-Greek players. As mentioned above, the rotation has shrunk, and the Greens are in dire need of reinforcements.

"Maybe we need a player in many positions," Priftis confirmed. "The first we should think about is whether we can look at the market and the second is that we have to keep working. We'll figure out the rest along the way."

Credit Vangelis Stolis

To be precise, the way in the EuroLeague includes another 17 games. Panathinaikos have been left without a visible goal other than avoiding one of the last places by the end of the regular season.

The Greek derby reflected the big difference between the two teams. Winners Olympiacos have the chance to cement their place in the Top 4 if they beat CSKA Moscow in Piraeus.

On the other hand, losers Panathinaikos will look to down Zalgiris Kaunas at OAKA to distance themselves from the bottom of the table.

That's what thirty-one days can do to a team.

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Atėnų Panathinaikos
Pirėjo Olympiakos
Field goals
Free throws

Best players

Nemanja  Nedovic
17 PTS
6/15 FG
2/4 FT
Shaquielle  McKissic
18 PTS
6/11 FG
3/4 FT
Georgios  Papagiannis
11 REB
Moustapha  Fall
Nemanja  Nedovic
7 As
6 TO
32 MIN
Konstantinos  Sloukas
6 As
3 TO
29 MIN
Georgios  Papagiannis
29 EFF
78% 2P%
- 3P%
Konstantinos  Sloukas
21 EFF
67% 2P%
67% 3P%