|He has collected so many MVP awards of every kind this decade - weekly, monthly, Final Four, full season - that Dimitris Diamantidis is going to run out of storage space for them. His latest, the bwin MVP honor for March and April, was new in the sense that it covered an entire playoffs round, during which Diamantidis led Panathinaikos in nine statistical categories to defeat Maccabi in the closing seconds of the fifth and final game of their now-classic series. As such, Diamantidis and the Greens now enjoy a new, first-time opportunity: to become just the second repeat Turkish Airlines Euroleague champions in the last 20 years. With Diamantidis as their leader, saying the right things as much as he does them on the court, one thing is certain: the Greens will be ready to seize the moment at the Final Four in Istanbul from May 11 to 13. "You can't be No. 1 every year," Diamantidis told Euroleague.net. "We managed to climb all the way to the top last year and this year we have reached the Final Four. This fact alone is a statement about this team. We've said it 100,000 times about this team, and every year we say it all over again. Although we know it's not easy, nevertheless we do wish to win back-to-back Euroleague titles."
Dimitris, congratulations on becoming bwin MVP for the month covering the playoffs. Did you ever expect the series with Maccabi to last until to the very final seconds?
"I hadn't anticipated that the series would be decided in the last seconds of the fifth game. But I was expecting a tough series. We knew that we were facing a really good team, with great tradition in the Euroleague, with many titles. It was a very interesting pairing, really good basketball was played and the fans watched close games with great suspense and stress. At the end, I believe we were better and we managed to get the last ticket for the Final Four, something that made us feel really happy."
You started the series with an incredible Game 1: 8 points, 5 assists, a block, steals, rebounds in the first quarter alone. What was your mindset coming into the series?
"Every single player steps onto the court opting to play well. In some games you may achieve this goal, but in others, things don't work out as you hope, because you may want to perform at your best, but there are other players competing on the floor who aim to prevent you from getting into the game. Anyhow, what matters the most is the team coming out victorious. If perchance you get to reach a good personal level of performance, thereby aiding the winning process of your team, of course you feel great to chip in a little something in order to help advance through to the next phase."
Of course, Panathinaikos won Game 1 in a blowout. What were you thinking after that, before Game 2?
"The first game turned out great for us. We nailed an easy win, but we knew that things wouldn't be the same the second time around. We are an experienced team; we know how to deal with certain situations that might arise. In the second game, we performed poorly and it was only fair that we were defeated."
One of Maccabi's lesser known players, Yogev Ohayon, hurt Panathinaikos in Game 2 and Game 3. Did he surprise you?
"No, he did not come as a surprise to me. Ohayon is a player with an important role on Maccabi's game. He competed really well this year. We had a plan to face him, one which failed at certain moments during the series. But the playoffs series was long, it got to the very last minute and in the end it is safe to say that our strategy worked out. I was not surprised by his performance. Ohayon is a good player; he has good skills and assisted Maccabi not only in this playoffs series, but throughout the entire season."
What changed after Game 3 that Panathinaikos seemed completely in charge during Game 4 on Maccabi's floor, even if it was a close score in the end?
"Both in the second and the third games of the series we made mistakes. We had a specific plan, but we didn't execute it as we should have. I believe that when we managed to cut back on strategic turnovers, then the team got back to the plan we had, obtaining the wins we needed after."
Game 5, Maccabi comes back twice from 12 points behind. You never seemed worried. Were you?
"It is only natural to get upset when Maccabi closes a 12-point gap to make a comeback in the game. It is necessary to get upset; otherwise you end up losing the encounter. That aside, the game was defined in the clutch, and we enjoyed a positive result. However, we should be troubled by the fact that, although we led twice with quite a big difference in the game, we managed to lose those leads in a matter of minutes. In the end, of course, what counts is that we got to advance to the Final Four. Our thoughts now look ahead to other issues."
Everyone was wondering if you missed the last free throw on purpose? And, wasn't it was very risky to go for a steal in the last seconds?
"No… I didn't miss on purpose! And yes, it was a little risky to steal. But in such moments you don't really have the time to analyze things. Your instinct takes over, instinct which doesn't always lead you in the right direction. It's only natural. It's impossible to do everything right. Thankfully, for me and my team, instinctive playing came out to our advantage."
You've played in some great games in your career, and two great playoffs in a row. Where do Game 5 rank for you?
"I cannot rank it to tell you the truth… It's just our line of occupation. This is sports! Both teams were after a place in the Final Four. Lucky for us, we have experienced it more than once in our lifetime. I am very happy… It was a good day, a happy memory in my basketball career to date. And I use the word 'lucky' because on the team within which I compete, we have the possibility to experience such moments. It is one of the good things."
Every time Panathinaikos has been Euroleague champ, reaching the Final Four again has been extremely tough. Now that you are going to Istanbul, is the pressure relieved a bit?
"No… When you get to the Final Four, the pressure is a given. We know that we are going to face a really good team in the semifinal, but we have other things to process, prior to getting there. When the time comes, we'll be ready to claim a place in the competition's title game."
You and your teammates and club have won everything. How much has the desire to win back-to-back Euroleague titles occupied your mind this season?
"When you get to a Final Four, there is no other goal than to win the trophy. This team demonstrates its hunger for titles every year. Ok, you can't be No. 1 every year. We managed to climb all the way to the top last year and this year we have reached the Final Four. This fact alone is a statement about this team. We've said it 100,000 times about this team, and every year we say it all over again. Although we know it's not easy, nevertheless we do wish to win back-to-back Euroleague titles."