In the clash of star forwards, Barcelona’s Jabari Parker (left) has clearly outplayed Olympiacos’ Alec Peters. Source: Rodolfo Molina/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
In the clash of star forwards, Barcelona’s Jabari Parker (left) has clearly outplayed Olympiacos’ Alec Peters. Source: Rodolfo Molina/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

EuroLeague playoffs: what’s been the game-changers so far?

Basketball OlyBet 29.04.2024

This week, all finalists for the EuroLeague Final Four could be set, but it’s likely that at least one series will extend to a decisive fifth game.

With equal assurance, it’s safe to say that one series will wrap up this week. Specifically, the reigning champion Real Madrid holds a 2-0 lead against Baskonia, and the Basque club hasn’t shown any signs of being able to secure two wins against Los Blancos this week.

Meanwhile, all other series are deadlocked at 1-1. It’s worth noting that the series continue until one team claims three victories.

Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Panathinaikos Athens (30 April, 20:00 EET, 2 May, 21:45 EET)

For Maccabi, the crucial question revolves around whether team leader Wade Baldwin can contribute to the Israeli club or not. The American injured his left hamstring early in the fourth quarter of the first game and sat out the next match. In his absence, Lorenzo Brown and Tamir Blatt stepped into more significant roles, and they performed well.

On the Panathinaikos side, forward Juancho Hernangomez will definitely be sidelined due to a calf issue. Although the Spaniard performed well in the first game, his absence isn’t a major setback. It simply means that Dinos Mitoglu will have to play more, but he possesses both the stamina and quality to do so.

So far in this series, Panathinaikos has struggled with controlling the defensive boards. Maccabi has averaged 12.5 offensive rebounds in two games, and while they’ve capitalized on many of those opportunities, it would be incorrect to say that Oded Kattash’s squad has dominated in the paint.

Why? Because Panathinaikos has been shooting close-range shots at an astonishing percentage, and Mathias Lessort has been dominating the paint. The Frenchman is averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds, and he’s been fouled 8.5 times per game. His scoring output could be even higher, but he’s struggled from the free-throw line, hitting only 44%. Lessort’s a much better free-throw shooter than that suggests.

Besides him, Maccabi has struggled to contain point guard Kostas Sloukas. The Greek has averaged 20.5 points and 8.5 assists in the series, shooting 68% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. The 34-year-old offensive orchestrator seems to be in the form of his life!

The series so far has vividly illustrated what each side needs to do to emerge victorious. In the first game, Panathinaikos failed to get their defense to work, and in a game focused on offense, everyone finds it incredibly tough to beat Maccabi.

In the second game, Maccabi scored fewer points than usual (79) and allowed Panathinaikos to score 95, which is a reasonable figure considering Kattash’s team’s defensive weakness. So, if Panathinaikos wants to make it to the Final Four, they need to get their defense in order because points will come anyway.

Meanwhile, Maccabi must maintain a high tempo, dominate the offensive boards, and capitalize on transition offense to rack up as many easy points as possible and play a style of basketball where Panathinaikos can’t set up their defense.

Olympiacos vs Barcelona (30 April, 21:30 EET, 2 May, 19:45 EET)

It’s no surprise that this series has seen the fewest points scored: Olympiacos averages 73 points, while Barcelona has managed 76. It’s also clear that Olympiacos has dictated the game tempo as their coach, Georgios Bartzokas, favors a slow-paced style of basketball, and their offensive game has been far from enjoyable.

However, defensively, the Greek powerhouse has been outstanding. Barcelona has only managed to hit 44% of their shots from the field, the lowest percentage in the playoffs.

Barcelona has excelled in some aspects, though, giving reason to believe they might even be slight favorites in this series. For instance, the Catalan giants have grabbed 13.5 offensive rebounds per game (the best in the playoffs), and Olympiacos has averaged a whopping 19 turnovers against them (the worst by far), meaning Barcelona has been handed plenty of second-chance opportunities, which could be invaluable in such a closely contested series.

And truth be told, it seems Barcelona has more room for improvement than Olympiacos, as Jan Vesely and Nicolas Laprovittola have been shadows of their usual selves in the series. In their place, Jabari Parker has emerged as a leader for Barcelona, averaging 18.5 points and six rebounds while shooting an impressive 56% from beyond the arc.

It remains to be seen how Olympiacos’ game will change with the return of team captain Kostas Papanikolaou, who missed last week’s games. Perhaps he can rejuvenate point guard Thomas Walkup, who has been distributing the ball well but has only hit one of his eight attempts from long range.

Fenerbahce Istanbul vs Monaco (1 and 3 May, 20:45 EET)

Fenerbahce is eagerly awaiting the return of center Johnathan Motley, as Sertac Sanli and Georgios Papagiannis haven’t been favorites of head coach Šarunas Jasikevičius. Therefore, the Lithuanian coach has frequently used a smaller lineup against Monaco, with forwards Nigel Hayes-Davis and Nate Sestina filling in the frontcourt positions.

It’s no surprise that Fenerbahce has focused on three-point shooting in this series. Under Jasikevičius’s guidance, they’ve been raining threes, and for good reason – Fenerbahce has hit a whopping 47% of their three-point attempts against Monaco.

If Monaco wants to make it to the Final Four, they have no choice but to somewhat neutralize Fenerbahce’s sharpshooters. In that case, they would become clear favorites, as so far, the principality’s representatives have displayed a much more versatile, smoother, and less predictable style of basketball.

Surprisingly, one of Monaco’s leaders has been Donatas Motiejunas. The Lithuanian has averaged 15 points in just 20.5 minutes per game, shooting an impressive 63% from beyond the arc. While Mike James has put up versatile numbers, Fenerbahce has actually handled him quite well, as the American has only managed to hit 27% of his field goals.

Nick Calathes has done an excellent job in containing James, and he’s been good overall with series averages of 12 points, five assists, and four rebounds. His defensive contribution is invaluable, and his three-point shooting deserves praise, as the Greek national known for his poor shooting has hit 60% of his threes.

Baskonia vs. Real Madrid (1 May, 21:30 EET, 4th game if needed at 3 May, 22:00 EET)

This series could be summed up very briefly: when Real puts effort into defense and moves the ball effectively on offense, Baskonia hasn’t had any chances. And thus, it would be a miracle if they were to make the series exciting.

But Baskonia could snatch a game. The regular season clearly showed that Duško Ivanović’s squad is a completely different team at home than away. Moreover, Markus Howard scored 36 points in the Spanish league over the weekend, indicating he’s in form. And when Howard scores around 30 points, Baskonia almost always has a chance.

The return of Chima Moneke could make Ivanović’s life a bit easier, but unfortunately, it’s highly likely that the Nigerian-born forward will miss the entire series due to a foot injury.

Baskonia’s biggest stumbling block has been their defense. Real has averaged 95.5 points against them, the highest in the playoffs. Additionally, Real has grabbed the most rebounds, dished out the most assists, committed the fewest turnovers, and made the most blocks.

It’s no wonder they’re firmly in control of the series.


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