By Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
For a second straight game in a span of two weeks Panathinaikos Athens faced Olympiacos Piraeus and the result was the same as it had been during the previous 12 meetings between the two Greek powerhouses. A win for the Reds, this time in the latest EuroLeague edition of the “derby of the eternal rivals.”
This clash was decided in the final minute, after the previous one for the Greek League came down to the very last play. Again, Panathinaikos seemed well prepared, took some risks that paid off, and could’ve escaped with victory, if not for some details, according to Greens’ star Dwayne Bacon.
“As a team we just can’t make any mistakes against them,” Bacon told Eurohoops. The 27-year-old forward finished with 14 points (on 4-9 from the field and 5-5 free throws), five assists and four rebounds in 32:44 before fouling out with five minutes remaining. “Right now they are the No. 1 team I think in Europe. They play well together and been together for a long time. They don’t get too low in tough situations. They always know how to play through everything. And they play the same way.”
“We come into the game we have a plan and our game plan has been very well these last two games. We’ve been in the games. But it was all about the little things. The little turnovers. Or, for example, they might take one or two bad shots in certain situations that we need to capitalize on and might need to make a play out of them.”
“It’s really just the little things that we have to capitalize on when we are up against a team like this. Because we know what kind of team they are. They are a great team and they know how to play under tough situations.”
Before Bacon came out of the locker room, Panathinaikos center Arturas Gudaitis used the word “unacceptable” to describe the 0-13 losing streak of his team against Olympiacos while talking to reporters. His team last beat their archrival on November 2021 with an 81 – 76 comeback win on the road spurred by now Crvena Zvezda guard Nemanja Nedovic.
Bacon echoed the words of his Lithuanian teammate. “It’s definitely unacceptable. I’m a part of it now,” he said. When it was pointed out to him that the skid began long before his arrival at Panathinaikos, he disregarded it. “You don’t look at it like that. I’m on the team so I’m a part of it now for being here. We just to keep playing man. At the end of the day, we’re there. It’s not like we don’t think we can retain a lead. In certain situations and certain moments we got to capitalize to break that streak.”
“From what I’ve heard it hasn’t always been this way,” Bacon added. From 2011-12 to 2017-18, Panathinaikos beat Olympiacos four out of seven times in the Greek League Finals and five more when the two powerhouses faced each other in the Greek Cup competition. Before that period, the six-time EuroLeague champion was way superior on a domestic level with nine straight Greek League titles from 2003 to 2011. “It used to be a different way. That’s how the game of basketball is. It was Pana time, it’s their time right now but it can always change at any time. And we’re going to keep fighting. We’re never giving up. We feel we can win. We just going to keep going. We can’t keep banging our heads over the little details, but we need to keep working on them, capitalizing on them. Hopefully we’ll see them in the Greek League championship.”
Bacon signed with Panathinaikos – then at a 1-4 start in EuroLeague – on October to bring his vast offensive skillset and solve issues the team had on that department. A rookie overseas after spending four years in the NBA, he amply proved how he can translate his scoring talents to the complexities of the European game during his 2021-22 season with AS Monaco, producing 14.0 points and 3.1 rebounds as the French side made the playoffs in its maiden run in the competition. He then had 15.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in the quarterfinals as his team forced a five-game playoff series vs. Olympiacos Piraeus.
When Bacon arrived at Panathinaikos he instantly became the main go-to-guy of the team and the one to dominate the attack actions. He took 17 attempts just in his debut, a loss to Partizan Belgrade.
Sine then and until the February break, Bacon was averaging a competition-high 16.2 field goal attempts (which is quite the number in Europe) while also leading the league in scoring with 18.6 points per game. It wasn’t that much of an efficient combination though, especially considering that Panathinaikos had fallen way behind in the playoff race with 8-16, 7-12 since Bacon had come on board.
After Panathinaikos parted ways with coach Dejan Radonjic and Christos Serelis took over the team’s game seems less centered around Bacon’s scoring and being more about adding more players as parts in the offensive equation. The American player agrees that this coaching change has some impact on the way he’s operating on the floor and on how he perceives his own role within the system in regards to what the team needs to win.
“Of course,” Bacon said. “It’s not like the last coach didn’t try to put me in that position. But I was just told two different things. When I first got here, I was told that we need points, I was told that we need to score the ball. It’s not like when I first got here I wasn’t passing the ball. I think when I was first here I was averaging 2-3 assists. But now it’s more about getting everybody involved. I know I can score the ball. But if I can have a game like tonight with 14 points, five assists, four rebounds, one turnover, then it’s good. Because my teammates are open more and we’re in the game a lot more. I just got to keep working. I feel like I can be a guy who can have those type of numbers every night but I just keep working on it. I can pass the ball. It’s not like that was ever a question on my game.”
Almost a week ago, Bacon went live on Instagram and talked about how much he’s missing his kids living in USA while an ocean separates him from them. Being on the floor, soaking up the game’s energy and knowing how his job provides to those he loves are the remedies that help keep him focused.
“When I step on the court I’m pretty clear minded,” Bacon said. “But… there’s those times when you aren’t on the court. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing and I love being over here. It’s an experience. When you play these games…. you don’t have forever to play them. I don’t have until I’m 40 to play these games. I think I have until I’m 35-36 to play these games. I want to maximize being all over the world, being here in Greece, as long as I can. Because it’s a great atmosphere for me and it’s great money for my kids.”
“At the end of the day, everything I’m doing is for my kids. I could stop playing basketball at 35-36 and make some great money, which I do. And I can just go home at 36. Being a father, a dad…. I’m fine with that, that’s understandable.”
“You get a little bit emotional when you have kids. And people who don’t have kids won’t really understand. It’s just a tough situation. I think my kids understand what I’m doing. They are young and I think that in the end they’ll understand what I’m doing and that everything I do, it’s for them. At the end of the day I just to keep fighting and staying strong. Nothing is easy. If it was easy everyone would be able to do it. I’ve lived a good life and I want to continue that way and I want it to be that way for my kids.”