One of the most anticipated basketball games on the continent, the Greek derby between archrivals Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and Olympiacos Piraeus, features an intriguing matchup between two good friends and on-court rivals, the Greens' forward Ioannis Papapetrou and his Reds' counterpart and two-time EuroLeague champion Kostas Papanikolaou.
Papanikolaou and Papapetrou started as teammates at Olympiacos in 2015 and played together for three seasons, which included helping the Reds reach the EuroLeague championship game in 2017. Papapetrou then joined Panathinaikos in the summer of 2018 and the two have competed against each other ever since.
Apart from being former teammates, the two are also physically very similar players. Both are athletic forwards who stand a couple of centimeters over two meters and both play crucial roles on the defensive end for their respective teams. Neither shies away from physical play. Offensively, Papapetrou, 26 and now in his eighth EuroLeague season, takes the ball to the hoop more often and finishes with excellent percentages closer to the rim, which ranked him eighth in two-point shooting (65.4%) for players with more than 30 appearances over the past two seasons.
An 11-year veteran with 232 appearances, Papanikolaou has chosen outside shots a bit more often throughout his career, especially over the past two seasons. He has knocked down three-point shots with better accuracy than Papapetrou and also played a bigger role in setting his teammates up for scores. Papanikolaou has also long been in the conversation as one of the competition's top defenders and is one of only 22 players all-time, and just one of 10 active players, with more than 200 steals for his career.
When it comes to head-to-head showdowns, Papapetrou and Papanikolaou have squared off four times. Each time the home team took the victory. And the player on the winning team also had the better individual stats of the two players in those clashes. Papanikolaou's best all-round performance came in the Reds' 79-65 win in January 2019 when he collected 12 points on 3-for-7 three-point shooting with 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists. Papapetrou and Papanikolaou were important protagonists in their respective team's wins in each of the two dramatic Athens derbies last season. When Panathinaikos topped the Reds 99-93 in overtime, Papapetrou played almost 32 minutes and had 11 points with 3 rebounds, while Papanikolaou was limited to 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 32 minutes. However, the last time the two met, Papanikolaou was again in one of the main roles for Olympiacos with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists, bettering Papapetrou's effort of 10 points and 3 rebounds in the Reds' 81-78 victory.
Now, each is also in a leadership role – on and off the court – for his respective club and Papapatrou and Papanikolaou square off once again in one of the greatest rivalries in all of basketball.