Credit: Olympiacos BC
Credit Olympiacos BC

Moustapha Fall has been a dominant force in the paint for Olympiacos Piraeus this season. The French center is the Reds' last line of defense and also a good finisher near and above the rim, making the best of his teammates' passes.

Following his EuroLeague rookie season with LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne, Fall moved to Greece with the aim to reach the EuroLeague playoffs and play at a higher level. So far, so good for the big man with the imposing stature (2.18 m.).

Averaging 8.7 points on 68.6% two-point shooting and 5.1 rebounds per EuroLeague contest, Fall has the lion's share in playing time among all Olympiacos's big men (over 22 minutes). 

Almost seven weeks ago, the man known in Olympiacos' locker room as the 'crocodile' (a nickname that reportedly team captain Giorgos Printezis came up with), signed a multi-year extension with the club, which expires in 2025. 

"I like the situation here- the club, the organization, the fans, and their passion. For me, it was an easy decision. Olympiacos is a big team. And living in Greece is also nice for me and my family, to be honest.

I enjoy being here and we've been winning too, so I have no reason to check out the market in the summer," Fall sums up the reasons which kept him in Piraeus for another three years talking to BasketNews.

As Olympiacos conquered the OAKA arena for the second time in the season, beating hosts Panathinaikos OPAP Athens 68-62 and essentially snatching home-court advantage for the Greek League playoffs, the 30-year-old made his comeback appearance in a big game. 

The last time the two main rivals met in Piraeus, he registered 13 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in one of his arguably best games in the red-and-white jersey.

"I was a little bit out of shape this time," Fall apologetically points out. He finished with 6 points, 4 boards and 2 dimes, but he still stayed on the court for 26 minutes. 

"It feels good. It was an important win for us in order to have the home-court advantage for the playoffs- if we meet them there, of course. It's good for the club and for the fans because we're going to have more games at home," the Paris-born athlete thinks.

In their last meeting, Olympiacos dismantled the Greens 101-73. But this time, the contest went down to the last five minutes, when the guests managed to keep Panathinaikos scoreless for almost five minutes.

"We have some players who can really step up defensively, like Thomas Walkup or Shaq McKissic. They made some big stops and hustled," Fall says. 

According to him, the ingredients that led Olympiacos to the win "were almost the same as last time we played them. We stayed consistent on defense, although we were bad on offense.

We executed badly, giving them too many offensive rebounds. It's nice to win those types of games, even when you're playing badly. It shows character and that we can improve a lot."

In the Greek Cup final held in Crete on February 20, Panathinaikos were up by 10 going into the fourth quarter. However, the team coached by Dimitris Priftis needed almost six minutes to score their first point in the game's final stretch.

"The game is 40 minutes," Fall reminds everyone. "We knew that they are a talented team and they were going to make some big shots, but we needed to stay in line and play our game until the end. We expected them to slow down, from one moment to the next."

Apart from all the obvious reasons that render a win over one's main opponent particularly important, Olympiacos have gained a significant morale booster which is premised upon their four straight triumphs against their main rival. Fall can't deny the obvious.

"We've beaten them four times in a row, so we're definitely feeling mentally strong," he confirms.

"But that doesn't mean they can't beat us on any given night. We just need to stay focused every time we play them and do our best. We shouldn't underestimate this team because they have really good talent," he goes on to add.

The Frenchman has been doing battle with PAO center Giorgos Papagiannis in the paint all season long. As the Greek has developed into one of EuroLeague's most fearsome defenders, Fall is aware of the complexity of his task. Nevertheless, he's come to know Papagiannis as an opponent all too well.

"It's going to be always the same. We know he's a lob threat because he catches all the passes thrown at him by his teammates. We focus so much on Nedovic and Macon that it's easier for him to go under the basket and catch a lob.

He's a good rebounder, for sure, and he's capable of knocking down mid-range shots. I know what to expect from him every time we play."

Credit Olympiacos BC

Although Olympiacos have two more Greek League games to play before they face AS Monaco for the EuroLeague playoffs, the upcoming series against the competition's most improved team in the second half of the season is on everyone's mind. The Reds and the Roca Team split victories in their regular-season clashes, but now three wins will be required for a team to make the Final Four. 

"We expect some very hard games," Fall underlines. "They're a very well-coached and talented team. We have the home-court advantage and we want to make the most of it, but we know it's going to be a good fight."

Monaco have gone a long way from struggling up until the Christmas period to becoming one of the teams to beat once coach Sasa Obradovic took the reins. Under the Serbian tactician, the squad from the Principality won itself and the club a historic playoff berth, thus becoming the first team to make the EuroLeague postseason having come straight from the EuroCup.

Credit Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Olympiacos had an easy night on November 5, blowing out the newcomers 85-65. But tables were turned in mid-March when Monaco made light work of the three-time EuroLeague champs. 

"For me, they're a totally different team now. They don't play the same way as they used to. I don't know how many wins in a row they had in the second part of the season, but even in the games they lost, it was by only a few points."

In pinning down the basic change he sees in Monaco, Fall echoes Sasa Obradovic's words. "We're playing better defense now," the 2018 EuroCup coach of the year told BasketNews in February. "You can definitely realize this. We have a mindset to find our way offensively and work on defense," he adds. 

A lot of things have happened ever since. Monaco, a team that counted four wins in five games against Russian squads, saw their playoff dream get dimmer. But thanks to a convincing win in Milan over AX Armani Exchange and a home-court that turned into a real fortress when facing theoretically superior teams (Anadolu Efes, Olympiacos), the case was settled for good. 

"They play defense now," Fall concurs. "Before, they weren't playing any defense," the Frenchman categorically points out. "They're really committed to their coach and that makes the difference." 

Having played at Monaco in the 2014-15 campaign, Moustapha Fall knows the ins and outs of the EuroLeague newcomers. 

Going into this series, the French big man thinks Olympiacos "should step up on defense and be ready to respond to their physicality. They are a very physical team and we must be prepared for the challenge. We'll also have to make some shots and not overthink it." 

Credit Olympiacos BC

Although Olympiacos as an organization display plenty of EuroLeague playoff experience, only four players on the Reds' current roster have suited up for a pre-Final Four series at least once in their entire careers: Giorgos Printezis, Kostas Sloukas (also with Fenerbahce), Kostas Papanikolaou (also with FC Barcelona) and Thomas Walkup (with Zalgiris Kaunas).

On the other hand, Monaco have three players (Mike James, Will Thomas, and Leo Westermann) with playoff appearances.

"It's always helpful to have some people who have been there and know how to win," Fall maintains. "But I think Monaco are the type of team who plays without fear and they're going to be ready to compete."

Some days ago, Giorgos Bartzokas and Sasha Vezenkov admitted that they didn't expect Olympiacos to take up such a high place in the standings. However, Thomas Walkup made clear through BasketNews that his team "might have exceeded other people's expectations, but not our own". 

Moustapha Fall seems to prefer the first 'group' of opinions.

"For sure I didn't expect us to be so high in the standings," he concedes.

"Our goal was to qualify for the playoffs and have a chance to fight for the Final Four. But I would never bet that we would have the home-court advantage going into the playoffs. It's a very good season and I hope we will continue to make it even better."

Moustapha Fall won the Olympic silver medal with France in the Tokyo Games last summer. However, his next international tournament participation ranks rather low among his short-term goals.

"I don't even think about it. I'm only focused on game after game this season. I haven't talked to anyone, whether it be the coach or a player.

I don't know when they're going to make a list of players and I'm not sure they're going to take me. It's a long season. We've got the EuroLeague and also the Greek League. There are too many expectations for me to be thinking about that too," he concludes.

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