When Olympiacos Piraeus arrives for its sixth Final Four in the past nine years, it will do so in a city – Istanbul – where it has made the best of memories. Sinan Erdem Dome, site of Final Four games, is where Olympiacos authored a spectacular comeback in the 2012 championship game to beat CSKA Moscow in the closing seconds for the first of its historic, back-to-back EuroLeague titles. This season, the Reds already survived a must-win game in the city to overcome Anadolu Efes Istanbul in Game 4 of their playoff series before taking Game 5 at home.
The path that leads to challenging for a European crown is by now a very familiar one for this team. Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis – the two players who hooked up on the title-winning basket in 2012 – highlight a roster that has four former EuroLeague champions and three more players who partook in the team's 2015 championship game loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish capital. As such, Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos came into this season knowing he had a squad with the experience to go far.
The Reds' recipe for success is no secret: elite defense. With newcomers who bought into the team's defensive work ethic, Olympiacos allowed its opponents the lowest average performance index rating and two-point shooting accuracy, fewest assists and second-fewest points in the EuroLeague this season.
Olympiacos sputtered early and had a 5-4 record entering December, but then found its stride by winning 11 of its next 13 games to storm into a tie for second place. The Reds slowed down in the closing stretch, but their final 19-11 record was good for a third-place finish to the regular season.
Come the playoffs, the Reds started exactly as they wanted, riding a double-double by Printezis to an 87-72 home victory over Efes in Game 1. After Efes secured narrow wins in Games 2 and 3, however, Olympiacos needed to save its season in Game 4 in Istanbul. Naturally, Spanoulis stepped up with 18 points and 4 assists in a 12-point win that evened the series. He then pumped in 22 points and 6 assists as Olympiacos took Game 5 at home to secure another Final Four berth.
Some may look to cast Olympiacos as the underdog in Istanbul; after all, it had a 1-5 record in the regular season against the other three Final Four squads. But Olympiacos has been handed that underdog hat before, and it looked very good when the Reds wore it to the championship celebrations!
Road to Istanbul
1. Despite starting the season with a loss in the opening game at Real Madrid, Olympiacos soon replied with a three-game winning streak to get back on track.
2. After two hard losses at home against CSKA Moscow and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, the Reds bounced back with eight straight wins at Peace and Friendship Stadium.
3. From December until mid-February, Olympiacos had a successful 11-2 run in the regular season and held opponents below 70 points seven times.
4. In Round 27, Georgios Printezis emerged again on the last play of a road game against Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade to hit the basket that secured the home-court advantage in the playoffs.
5. The Reds saved their season with a Game 4 victory over Anadolu Efes in Istanbul, then came home for a do-or-die playoffs finale to follow their leader, Vassilis Spanoulis, to the Final Four.