European champion Olympiakos returned to the Greek throne after 15 long years on Saturday thanks to an 82-76 home win over Panathinaikos that saw the Reds win the final series for the league title with a 3-2 score.
The match at the Peace and Friendship Stadium had one team dominating play and one chasing the game, as Olympiakos took the upper hand from the seventh minute onward turning the 11-11 score into an 18-11 lead. It never looked back since.
Led by an improved Vassilis Spanoulis, who was much more efficient on the night in scoring, the Reds stretched their lead to 12 points at half-time (48-36) as the Greens suffered considerably in defense while their main scorers were on a relatively bad night: Dimitris Diamantidis notched up 13 points, Mike Batiste just seven and Sarunas Jasikevicius only four.
Still, a spirited Nick Calathes (top scorer of Panathinaikos with 17 points) led the visitors’ comeback early in the second half to cut the distance to just three (48-45), before the Piraeus giants regained their momentum to seemingly take the game beyond their opponents, leading 75-59.
There was still one more twist in the story of the match, as consecutive three-pointers by Stratos Perperoglou brought the Greens back into the game (80-76) with a minute and half left, until a Giorgos Printezis slam dunk sealed the triumph for Olympiakos for its first domestic title since 1997.
“I feel vindicated for returning to Olympiakos,” said coach Dusan Ivkovic after the game. The Serb was the Olympiakos coach in its previous league triumph 15 years ago, too.
“I am proud to be a member of this Olympiakos team,” said Spanoulis, scorer of 24 points on the night.
Scenes of wild celebrations followed in the streets of Piraeus by Olympiakos fans.
The good news for Panathinaikos was that after the match some 1,000 of its fans waited for the squad at its hotel in Athens for a warm reception as if their team had just won, making coach Zeljko Obradovic promise them: “I will do everything to stay in the team.”
This came just a couple of days after the statement by Panathinaikos owners, the Giannakopoulos brothers, that they will hold on to the club for at least one more year, dispelling fears for their departure from the Greek Cup winner.