Read below Aito Garcia, one of the most celebrated coaching icons, who shares his thoughts with Future Stars on the Euroleague play off games so far.
FS: Three series are already decided. Two of them were won by the strong favourites Barcelona and CSKA. But Siena losing to Olympiacos could be seen as a surprise. Do you agree with that?
AG: I agree, it has been a surprise that Olympiacos has won the series. I wouldn’t call that a sensation but certainly Siena was a favourite. However teams on this level are so evenly matched that it is very difficult to talk about true sensations. One of the beauties of Euroleague is that it is so difficult to predict the final outcome of the games.
FS: What were the main factors allowing Olympiacos to beat Siena? Has Siena showed all the signs of an ageing team which simply physically couldn’t cope with the younger and perhaps more hungry Olympiacos?
AG: It is due to a combination of factors. It is very difficult to say that experienced players from Siena didn’t perform.
Olympiacos had played such a great defence in the majority of the series that it was very difficult for Siena to find their flow offensively. Having said that I have the slight impression that Siena approached the series with less faith in their abilities. Perhaps the lack of Kaukenas affected them to quite a large extent. On the other hand, Olympiacos have improved the structure in their offense with good ball movement and well balanced scoring options.
FS: Would you agree that Olympiacos’s backcourt has done an excellent job on neutralising Mc Calleb?
AG: It’s true, he could not penetrate like he is used to and that affected Siena’s offence very much. He is their most creative player who opens a lot of space for their shooters. Without his penetrations Siena was shooting much poorer from outside
FS: How would you rate the performance of Bilbao which almost tied the series? Their performance in game 3 was simply amazing. Which players impressed you the most?
AG: I would say that Bilbao has played a very brave and proud series. The entire team and coach Fotis Katsikaris, needs to be congratulated for the way they tackled the powerful CSKA. After 2 heavy defeats in Moscow they showed a terrific enthusiasm and mental strength in games 3 and 4. Separate praise must go to their magnificent supporters.
FS: The most exciting series is still on and will be decided in Athens. What is your assessment of these series and particularly game 4.
AG: Both teams played very well. Panathinaikos has this unbelievable mental strength which allows them to perform in the crucial moments. This is no surprise bearing in mind how many trophies they won in the last decade. They simply know how to perform under an immense pressure. You may say that Maccabi was not lucky in last moments of the Game 4 but then again I think that Panathinaiko’s confidence and experience was crucial and they forced Maccabi to take poor shots. Maccabi was unlucky in the last minutes of the game.
FS: Would you agree that despite an inspirational performance from Ohayon, Maccabi’s key players failed to deliver key plays in the last couple minutes of game 4 when Maccabi tied the game and even briefly took the lead?
AG: Yes, but it happens sometimes when the score is tight. In moments like that you have to have players who know how to deal with that kind of pressure. Look at Panathinaikos backcourt, Diamantidis, Calathes and Jasikevicius, it is difficult to find a more experienced trio to win games like Game 4 in Tel Aviv
FS: Do you believe that after Game 4 the momentum is firmly with Panathinaikos and they will book their place in Final Four?
AG: Panathinaikos is again favourite, but it is not going to be easy because Maccabi is playing very well too and have already won in Athens and fifth games are notoriously difficult to predict.