Panathinaikos crowned Champions of Europe

May 26, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Panathinaikos were crowned Champions of Europe with a 95-80 win over Real Madrid at the Euroleague final in Berlin. Captain and game MVP Kostas Sloukas helped the greens mount a second half comeback to take the title and hand the club their 7th continental championship as the fans went into absolute delirium throughout the arena.

Sloukas scored 14 points, Kendrick Nunn added 17 points and Mathias Lessort scored 17 points in the win while Dzanan Musa scored 15 points, Facundo Campazzo chipped in with 12 points and Sergio Rodriguez scored 11 points in the loss.

Kostas Sloukas – Photo credit: Euroleague

This was Kostas Sloukas’s game. It was his game to win or his game to lose. The shooting guard arrived in the summer with three Euroleague championships to his name with a pair coming in the back-to-back seasons 2012 and 2013 with crosstown rival Olympiacos and another in 2017 with Fenerbahce.

But following his time in Turkey he returned to Olympiacos for three seasons and then did the unthinkable, trading in his red jersey for a green one. With that move Sloukas may have become public enemy number #1 in Piraeus but was now feted as the Panathinaikos savior, the one who would find a way to get them back to the Final Four and add a 7th European title, their first since defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2011.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Sloukas said. “I’m so proud of my team and the entire Panathinaikos organization, we had incredible talent and we made it. I’m so happy for the coach and our owner. I always say don’t underestimate me both defensively and offensively.”

Ergin Ataman – Photo credit: Panathinaikos

Did the Panathinaikos faithful believe that their head coach Ergin Ataman would be able to bring a championship so quickly? With a resume that already included two straight titles with Anadolu Efes in 2021 and 2022 the expectations where sky high and the Turkish maestro played the part to a “T”. After falling to Maccabi Tel Aviv in game one of their quarterfinal series, Ataman guaranteed that he would get to the Final Four and delivered. Before the semifinals he promised to get to the finals and add that 7th star while after the Fenerbahce win Ataman went all out and predicted victory for the greens and he delivered.

“An amazing experience,” Ataman said. “We are 15,000 strong in Berlin and we deserved this all season. We were down 15 points and we came back. It’s amazing and I’m very proud. I lost my father one month ago and he was with me for all of the Efes championships. I want to thank all of my supporters.”

Photo credit: Euroleague

The atmosphere inside the Uber Arena reached the heights of heights more than an hour before tipoff as Panathinaikos fans which made up roughly 85% of the supporters were already singing at full throttle. However, when they did go silent with about ten minutes until game time the Real Madrid fans made their presence known as one of their cheering sections in the upper level of the facility waved their flags as the chorus sung to their heart’s delight.

In addition to the fans from both finalists others from Fenerbahce and Olympiacos as well as regular hoop aficionados filled up the 15,000 state of art center in Berlin. As the players entered stepped onto the floor just as gladiators once did reach for battle the crescendo hit ear ringing levels.

Chus Mateo with Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull – Photo credit: Euroleague

The starters stepped onto the floor and Los Blancos Head Coach Chus Mateo pulled a rabbit out of his hat with Eli Ndiaye getting the shock start to the utter surprise of the Greens bench boss Ergin Ataman as well as his players. The Ndiaye move paid dividends right off the bat with a pair of triples and a deuce for the first 8 points for Real, but Jerian Grant, Ioannis Papapetrou and Kendrick Nunn all went from deep, however so did Facundo Campazzo while Dzanan Musa also found points to give Madrid an early 22-16 lead midway through the first quarter.

Musa kept finding the bucket, Kostas Sloukas entered the fray and went from deep immediately Guerschon Yabusele took his patented 3-pointer right above the key and Sergio Rodriguez slashed to the basket to give Real a 36-25 lead after ten minutes of play.

Eli Ndiaye – Photo credit: Euroleague

Both teams entered the game extremely confident as well as cool, calm and collected with all of the principles raring to go but it was Eli Ndiaye that stunned everyone. True he got the start against Olympiacos and did open up 12 of the 22 games he played in but the semifinal seemed to be a one off considering he didn’t play in the quarterfinal sweep of Baskonia and only averaged 2.6 points throughout the regular season. But Ndiaye, the 19-year old from Senegal was certainly up to the task on the grandest stage for Real to set the tone and get PAO out of rhythm enough for his team to take a double digit lead.

Sloukas went in for a layup and Yabusele knocked down another 3-pointer to begin the second quarter, Rudy Fernandez who is retiring after this summer’s Olympics turned the clock back a decade and thread the needle to a waiting Fabien Causeur under the hoop but a quick 8-0 run by Juancho Hernangomez and Mathias Lessort cut the lead to 41-35 as Mateo called time with 5:27 left in the first half.

Mathias Lessort and Vincent Poirier – Photo credit: Euroleague

Poirier grabbed a second chance and stuffed down the bucket, Lessort came back with a pair of his own, an unsportsmanlike foul to Musa after his pocket was picked sent the green fans into pandemonium as the gap kept closing swiftly, Mario Hezonja and Grant traded triples, while a another one from deep by the fallen out of favor Luca Vildoza dropped the Real advantage down to just a single points, 46-45. Lessort powered in a pair over an active Poirier but Musa and Campazzo hit back-to-back 3-pointers to head into the half with a 54-49 lead.

With Kendrick Nunn picking up a trio of first quarter fouls Ataman had to dip into his bench which he did by bringing in one Luca Vildoza who had dropped out of the rotation for many a game including 2 of the quarterfinal games against Maccabi Tel Aviv while playing sparingly in the balance of series. But the wily Argentine veteran who played a bit part for the 2022 Milwaukee Bucks has yet to really find his home back in Europe after being in the NBA when he was starring for Baskonia between 2016-2021. Will Vildoza be back next season in Athens is yet to be determined but right now his bench boss needs him to be the guard he had hoped to see throughout a disappointing season in which he averaged 5.8 points in 15 minutes.

Kostas Sloukas – Photo credit: Euroleague

Sloukas got the PAO fans right back into gear as he led off the second half from deep, Hernangomez put in a layup and Nunn drilled home a triple to give Panathinaikos their first lead of the game 58-56 midway through the third quarter. Real’s shooting started to go cold as one miss after the next nine matter from which angle the ball is coming from, except the Greens had the same exact problem as the rim looked like the size of a peashooter for both squads. Nunn took the rock into the lane for a deuce but when he tried it for a second time his attempt was swatted away by Poirier but the Real shooting woes continued in earnest as Fernandez, Hezonja and Yabusele couldn’t hit the side of a barn, but Rodriguez finally put in a basket but Panathinaikos stayed ahead going into the final frame up 64-61.

Kendrick Nunn arrived in Greece after the Euroleague season had gotten underway as it took some time for the guard to pick up the continental game. Making his debut on gameday 7 against Alba and then the following week versus Zalgiris, the former Lakers, Heat and Wizards man played only sparingly quickly became a mainstay for Ataman and went on a tear the rest of the way scoring 15.4 points in just over 26 minutes per game.

Kendrick Nunn – Photo credit: Euroleague

Who else began the fourth quarter with points but none other than Nunn, Rodriguez countered at the other end, but Grant scored from the inside and Konstantinos Mitoglou went from the outside as Mateo called time with PAO now ahead 74-65. More misses were on tap for Real as Panathinaikos left no stone unturned on defense as Grant scored but a Hezonja 3-point play and a Sergio Llull 3-pointer cut down the greens lead fast midway through the period.

Sloukas and Llull then went back and forth from beyond the arc for a dozen points between the two of them in short order, Tavares put in a layup, Nunn hit a jumper and a tear drop while Mitoglou drained a triple to put the game out of reach as Sloukas and Lessort added a few more points from the charity stripe to close out the championship.

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