Olympiacos Piraeus is one of the biggest road warriors in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague this season. On Tuesday, the Reds held on to defeat Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv 87-89 after overtime at Menora Mivtachiv Arena. Despite trailing most of the way, Olympiacos had the character and concentration to make the right plays and the right decisions in the most decisive moments of the game.
One of the many decisions that Olympiacos head coach Georgios Bartzokas made was an unexpected one. Giannoulis Larentzakis spent the first 28 minutes of the game sitting on the bench. When the dust settled, Larentzakis had become the Reds’ X-factor. He finished the game with personal-bests of 13 points, 3 rebounds and a PIR of 17. Larentzakis made 2 of 4 three-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws.
Some 8 of his 13 points came in overtime, allowing Olympiacos to return home with a win. Larentzakis made his 5 free throws in the extra period and missed his final attempt to run the game clock down. He also buried a three-pointer in overtime at a critical moment – after Othello Hunter had given Maccabi an 81-80 lead. Larentzakis struck from downtown, Olympiacos got a defensive stop and a great ball circulation allowed the Reds to find Sasha Vezenkov wide open in the corner for another three-point shot. Olympiacos took an 81-86 lead with 52.2 seconds left and managed it well until the final buzzer.
“He is a EuroLeague newcomer, the level is really high and whatever he was able to help us. He was crucial in the game against Zvezda in Belgrade, and he was crucial today, also,” Bartzokas said about Larentzakis in the post-game press conference. “Not only with the crucial shots and free throws that he made, but also with his defense. That is why I talked about team effort because we have a group of very good players.”
In a game that truly came down to small details, free throws were very important. Maccabi made 25 of 35 foul shots (71.4%) and missing three critical attempts, two at the end of regulation – one by Tyler Dorsey, the other by Scottie Wilbekin – and one late in overtime when Wilbekin had a chance to tie the game, but missed the third of his three free throws with 7.2 seconds remaining. Olympiacos buried 25 of 28 attempts (89.3%) before Larentzakis’s tactical miss.
Olympiacos’s current go-to guys also came up big in this game. Kostas Sloukas recorded his third double-double of the season, finishing the game with 21 points and 11 assists. In the last three games, all won by Olympiacos, Sloukas has averaged 23.3 points on 10-of-15 three-point shooting (66.7%), 7.7 assists and a PIR of 27.3. Despite a poor shooting night (2 for 9), Vezenkov had 8 points, 7 rebounds and a PIR of 9. What’s most important, he hit the most critical shot of the game.
“It was very tough. The coach of course helped, but also our guy at position ‘1’. He made the comments, the right decisions. And everybody, the guys who came from the bench, the guys who played less, the guys who didn’t play very good – like me today,” Vezenkov said after the game. “So everybody helped the team to achieve this big victory.”
Olympiacos plays back-to-back games against LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne – at home in Round 20 on Friday, and at the Astroballe in a makeup game from Round 10 on Tuesday, January 19. It will play two more road games, against Zalgiris Kaunas and AX Armani Exchange Milan, before returning home. If Olympiacos stays as competitive, focused and ready to fight like it was in Tel Aviv, it could keep adding road wins in what is shaping up to be a strong campaign.