King of Spain Real Madrid
MADRID – It was perfectly fitting that Spanish King Felipe VI attended the Turkish Airlines Euroleague championship game as His Majesty the King witnessed Real Madrid’s re-ascension to the throne of European basketball.
King Felipe VI got television air-time shaking his head in amazement at some of the plays that led Madrid to a 78-59 victory over Olympiacos Piraeus for the club’s record ninth title in Europe’s top international club competition – and most importantly its first crown since 1995.
King Felipe VI handing over the Euroleague trophy to Madrid captain Felipe Reyes not only ended Real’s 20-year drought – their longest between championships. It also eased the minds of Madrid faithful who had watched their beloved Blancos lose in the previous two Euroleague championship games.
Some could say Madrid needed the home court advantage to finally add another piece of hardware to their trophycase. But Real coach Pablo Laso and his team deserve to call themselves Euroleague champions in a weekend full of intriguing storylines ending with the home team finally getting business done.
Many embarked on Madrid talking about the 2015 Euroleague Final Four having the goods to become possibly the best ever.
Madrid were going on 20 years yearning for the elusive ninth title. Their semi-final opponents Fenerbahce Ulker featured the Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica as well as perhaps the greatest coaching mastermind in the game, the eight-time Euroleague champion Zeljko Obradovic – the man who led Madrid to their last title and coached the player Laso for two years at Madrid.
The other semi-final offered up just as much intrigue – if not more – with CSKA Moscow taking on Olympiacos Piraeus. The recap of the last two Final Four encounters between these teams reads like a feel-good, underdog Hollywood script. And Euroleague fans came to Madrid drooling over Act III to play out in the Barclaycard Center in the heart of Spain’s capital.
The former Palacio de Deportes was a sea of CSKA and Olympiacos red for the first semi-final, which pitted Euroleague’s top offense – CSKA – against its best defense – Olympiacos.
CSKA Moscow came into the season with a new coach – the up-and-coming Dimitrios Itoudis, the long-time assistant to Zeljko Obradovic at Panathinaikos, where they won five Euroleague crowns together. The Russian powers also had new faces looking to bring the Euroleague trophy back to Moscow for the first time since 2008.
But in the back of the minds of neutral observers, fans of both teams and probably players from both sides were the 2012 and 2013 Final Fours.
The 2012 final in Istanbul turned out to be one of the most memorable games in basketball history with Olympiacos racing back from a 19-point third quarter deficit to beat CSKA 62-61 on Georgios Printezis’s floater with 0.7 seconds left.
CSKA came into that 2012 game as overwhelming favorites, being coached by former Euroleague winner Jonas Kazlauskas, who also won Olympic bronze as coach of Lithuania. And the team was stacked with the likes of Andrei Kirilenko, Ramunas Siskauskas, Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic and Victor Khyrapa.
But Olympiacos pulled off the magic thanks to Vassilis Spanoulis, Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou and Kyle Hines.
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