A beaming Alexandros Nikolaidis was surrounded by cameras and journalists in the Olympiacos lockerroom following their 77-68 win over ASVEL. This was the first time in his professional career that he was the center of attention as the 17-year old guard scored 6 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and made 4 steals to in fact steal the show from Theo Maledon. Nikolaidis who was forced into duty due to injuries and illnesses out played, out managed and our maneuvered the French starlet in front of the Golden State Warriors brass.
The Greek squad under new/old head coach Georgios Bartzokas was down to seven senior level players and had to dress an injured Taylor Rochestie plus two youth players in Aleksej Pokuševski and Nikolaidis. For ASVEL the situation east much better as the team were also without a number of regulars thereby allowing Maledon the chance to shine in what could have been a coming out party with oodles of minutes for Warriors personnel Mike Dunleavy Jr., Larry Harris and Kosta Jankov. However, the show that was supposed to take place was halted with Maledon’s early foul trouble and not being able to find his rhythm.
The game began well for the NBA Draft prospect with a rebound, a 3-pointer and an assist while also slicing his way by Georgios Printezis but after committing his second foul of the contest frustration filled his face as he made his way to the bench where veteran Jordan Taylor gave him some tips of the trade. Maledon kept staring to his right and up at the scoreboard where two fouls glared back at him, halting what could have been some prime playing time.
It was at that point when Bartzokas thought it was a good time to insert the kids, Nikolaidis and Pokuševski to a huge ovation of the Partizan crowd who realized that they were about to see glimpses of their team’s future with just a couple of minutes left in the first frame. One time NBA forward Kostas Papanikolau offered words of encouragement from the bench as the frame ended with the hosts clinging to a one-point, 21-20 lead.
The fans thought that the pair of youngsters were in the game to ride out the first quarter but Bartzokas liked what he saw and kept Nikolaidis in the match as Zvezda Mitrovic reinserted Maledon. However, little did Maledon know, he was about to be bested by the youngest player to ever don the Olympiacos jersey.
Nikolaidis blocked a Maledon layup, Papanikolau drilled home a triple and then Nikolaidis striped Jordan Taylor of the ball to lead the break and put in a layup over Antione Diot for his first ever Euroleague points. He then drew a foul off Adrien Payne and drained a pair of free throws. Not bad, not bad at all from a member of Greece’s Under-18 team who took third place at this past summer’s European Championships.
With ASVEL feeling the wrath of a young gun, Coach Mitrovic decided to bring a 17-year old of his own onto the wooden floor at the Peace and Friendship Arena as Mathew Strazel came on and hit iron on his first chance form behind the arc.
But then out of nowhere’s on a seemingly innocent play in the paint, tragedy struck again for Olympiacos when Nikola Milutinov went up for the ball and landed awkwardly rolling his ankle with the score at 36-31 for the Greeks. Papanikolau looked down and then up in frustration as he saw yet another one of his teammates go down for the count. Milutinov would leave the building following the game on his own strength with a huge boot cast on his left foot as he went for an MRI as the Olympiacos faithful hoped and prayed it would be nothing more than a sprain.
All was not lost as Octavius Ellis came on for the Russian big and drained a trio of free throws to go along with a Printezis basket and yet another pair of charity line shots from Nikolaidis to raise his game total to six points compared to five for Maledon as the half ended with Olympiacos with a ten point 43-33 advantage after twenty minutes of action.
Fittingly, with so many young players featuring for both squads, there was a kiddie halftime photo shoot and a crawling race to mid court with mostly clueless infants go around in circles.
Ellis ended a ho-hum start to the third quarter with a mammoth tomohawk dunk which woke up not only the crowd by Bartzokas’s squad as well. Printezis and Sasha Vezenkov who has been consistent all night long drilled back to back 3-pointers to go up 61-45 with 1:08 left in the frame but Charles Kahudi and Jordan Taylor brought the French side back to -11, 61-50 with ten minutes left in regulation time.
Diot came out firing from deep to begin the final frame, but Wade Baldwin put in a tough contested layup and flexed for the press box as the former first round pick by the Memphis Grizzlies back in 2016 came alive with a fabulous 9 point second half. Bartzokas surprised some by reinserting Nikolaidis down the stretch with Olympiacos struggling to create separation but yet again the 6”2 youngster pulled down another key board with ASVEL trying to get something started.
After a very quiet couple of quarters Maledon finally made some noise with a long two pointer but but Ellis put down a pair of baskets to go along as Nikolaidis continued to dog ASVEL and make sure Olympiacos maintained a double digit lead as they ran of with the 77-68 victory.