Just when Olympiacos Piraeus needed them most, the veteran core of the team - Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou and Nikola Milutinov - carried the Reds to a convincing victory and showed the rest of Europe why they cannot be taken lightly.
Olympiacos came into Friday’s home opener against Valencia Basket after a poor 19-point opening night loss at LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne as well as the departure of head coach David Blatt. The quartet of leaders, though, made sure they had the back of interim coach Kestutis Kemzura - and respected their fans’ loyalty after the nightmare in France.
The 37-year-old Spanoulis, who has been with the club since the 2010-11 season, collected 17 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists while the 34-year-old Printezis, who grew up with the club and has been back since 2011-12, picked up 13 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. The 29-year-old Papanikolaou, who is in his fifth season back with the Reds, chipped in with 12 points and 5 steals while Milutinov - in his fifth campaign in Piraeus despite still being only 24 years old - was dominant with 17 points, 14 rebounds - 8 of them offensive rebounds - 2 assists and 1 steal.
It was the Serbian big man Milutinov and the elder statesman Spanoulis who really got the team going in the first half. Milutinov had 13 points and 9 rebounds before the intermission and Spanoulis tallied 11 points and 5 assists as Olympiacos led 54-30 at the break - after having scored just 63 points in total against ASVEL the previous week.
Kemzura said the key to the performance was his players approaching the game as though it was the most important in the season.
“If we can manage to come into every game with this mindset I think we can be good,” said Kemzura, who was Blatt’s assistant until the club and coach parted ways. “I really want to congratulate my players. They did a great job. The first half was amazing. It was really amazing. Spanoulis was amazing. Milutinov … everybody. I don’t want to pick out anybody. Everybody who stepped in did his part.”
Kemzura also meant the reserves with that statement as Papanikolaou was one of three bench players to score in double figures along with Mindaugas Kuzminskas’ 13 points and Kevin Punter’s 11 points. The bench finished with 40 points - 21 more than the reserves totalled last week against ASVEL.
But it all started with that veteran Olympiacos core four.