Lessort is the key of keys in classic Euroleague final between Real Madrid and Panathinaikos

May 25, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

The basketball champion of Europe will be crowned on Sunday night in Berlin when Real Madrid takes on Panathinaikos in a one game winner take all 40 minutes of intense and aggressive action. The Greens defeated Fenerbahce in convincing fashion in the first of two semifinal tilts as Ergin Ataman’s squad raced out to a quick 12-0 lead to set the tone while Los Blancos also jumped out to a 28-10 first quarter advantage and never looked back to punch their ticket to the championship game.

It was clear that in both games that the team that was mentally prepared from the get go and used their aggressiveness, intensity and focus were the ones who found themselves in the final. Sure Fener made valiant comeback to cut their clash to 51-50 but for all intents and purposes Saras Jasikevicius’s team used so much energy to get back into the game they ran out of gas by the time the fourth quarter arrived.

Facundo Campazzo – Photo credit: EuroLeague

Georgios Bartzokas’s side tried to cut down the large gap that Real had created by halftime as they led 56-37 and did indeed get the game into single digits but it was not going to be the Reds day as Chus Mateo has so much depth on his squad even without an injured Gabriel Deck it’s just not even fair.

So it’s now the league’s top two teams in the final and both aware loosey goosey the day before the big matchup and confidence as well as good will on the two sides were oozing from each and every one of the principles. Perhaps the pregame press conference and media availability was too nicely-nicey in fact as the love fest set in from the get go as the joking around and good will permeated the room as well as on the court.

PAO will no doubt try to use their aggressive play from the tip-off while Real will attempt to have their quality shooting and slashing to the basket be the way that they will look to control the momentum.

Rudy Fernandez – photo credit: EuroLeague

However, as Rudy Fernandez is set to play the final game of his club career and Real Madrid will look to repeat and go back-to-back and belly-to-belly for their second straight Euroleague title, Panathinaikos’s Turkish coach will try and win his third championship in four years. One can even argue that since Efes was in first place in 2020 when the league stopped due to COVID-19, Ataman in fact has basically taken four out of five!

What will be the keys to the game? Will it be Real’s stealth shooting from Mario Hezonja, Dzanan Musa, Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull? Will it be Facundo Campazzo who’ll conduct the orchestra? Can Kostas Sloukas, Kendrick Nunn, Jerian Grant and Ioannis Papapetrou get their shots off in style?

Or will the game be decided in the paint with arguably some of the best bigs in the business?

I’d take the inside game as being the key to this contest hands down.

Mathias Lessort – Photo credit: Euroleague

Greens big man Mathias Lessort was considered by some as being the MVP of the league this past season with strong play on the boards at both ends of the court while scoring key buckets and finishing with the second highest efficiency rating in the league just behind Shane Larkin.

Edy Tavares, Real’s giant center praised Lessort for his quality play this season while Vincent Poirier who plays with Lessort for France and shares the Madrid front court with Tavares also had kind words for the #26. But just because they have nice things to say about Lessort doesn’t mean that A) the Real big men don’t want to win as much as PAO, B) they don’t have the quality that Lessort does.

The duo of Tavares and Poirer most certainly want to win the title for the second season in a row and are also extremely talented in their own unique ways.

Vincent Poirier and Walter Tavares – Photo Credit: Euroleague

Tavares is a game changer as any Panathinaikos player can tell you because everyone has to adjust their shot should he come out to challenge them while anyone thinking about driving into the paint will have to really think about that twice or three times at the risk of being rejected.

While Lessort has taken care of Tavares somewhat in the past, Poirier is going to be an even tougher challenge and can cause oodles of problems inside. For Lessort, he will need to be very aware of his surroundings in order to be able to use his abilities inside to be game changer for Ataman’s team.

Real may definitely try to slow down Lessort and perhaps will do what Maccabi did and play “Hack-A-Lessort” and send him to the line where he was disastrous during the quarterfinal series. Speaking to Tavares about that philosophy and the fact that in the semifinal he fouled out, the 32-year old Cape Verde center said that it was a possibility that they will use fouls to slow him down but he also knows that he’s go to be more careful so that he doesn’t find himself on the bench and out the game for the final 2+ minutes.

Walter Tavares – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Poirier told me that everything is on the table in order to ensure that Lessort won’t beat them inside and that regardless of what happens in the game itself the Martinique native would still be invited over. After the last game they played against one another, perhaps Poirier should reconsider as Lessort lit him up for 26 points, 7 boards and 4 assists. If that happens, Real Madrid can probably kiss goodbye the title.

When I asked Lessort himself about his free throw woes from the quarterfinal series he said that it was just a blip on the radar and that he’s usually a better shooter from the charity stripe with 63% this past season and 71% last year. However, he did say that he has to stay mentally in the game and that will really be the difference maker for the game.

And truth be told, he’s probably 100% correct.

Everyone needs to be locked from the start of the game and if one team is not, it will be curtains and very, very quickly.

Just ask Fenerbahce and Olympiacos.

Mathias Lessort – Photo credit: PAO

When it’s a one game, winner take all you’ve got to be dialled in because there is no tomorrow and no series to make corrections. You don’t have a game two to even up the series because there is no game two or game three or game four. It’s one game and that’s it.

Real Madrid has been together for the most part for a couple of seasons other than Campazzo who rejoined the team this past campaign. For Panathinaikos they are a totally new team from top to bottom, from the coach to just so many players which makes it even more impressive that they are now just 40 minutes away from European glory.

Both teams know what they have to do in order to win, the question is who will be able to do it better and take home the grand prize?

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