Vezenkov still marvels at Olympiacos semis turnaround vs. Monaco

2023-11-29T10:41:19+00:00 2023-11-29T10:41:19+00:00.

Aris Barkas

29/Nov/23 10:41

AS Monaco meets Olympiacos for the first time since the Reds’ epic 27-2 third quarter flipped their semifinal in Kaunas. Sasha Vezenkov narrates what happened for Eurohoops

By Aris Barkas and Michalis Stefanou/

Even though the history between Olympiacos and Monaco is just starting, an interesting new rivalry between two teams with high ambitions is blossoming with each passing game. Their head-to-head is tied 5-5 as Monaco hosts the Reds on Thursday.

While Olympiacos is already an established powerhouse with three EuroLeague titles under its belt, Monaco is up-and-coming with impressive speed.

Monaco’s rise has been cut short twice by the Greeks, however, as Olympiacos left Monaco out of the 2022 Final Four and out of the 2023 championship game.

And this brings us to a moment of history that was made just a few short months ago.

Flipping the switch

Olympiacos was down by 12 points at the halftime of last season’s semifinal, with Monaco leading 41-29. And then the Reds turned the switch.

“What do I remember from the third quarter against Monaco?”

Sasha Vezenkov was on the other side of the line, straight from Sacramento, ready to take a trip down memory lane.

“I strongly remember at halftime when we all entered the locker room and we talked and agreed that this was not us. We couldn’t continue playing like this, because simply we sucked on both sides of the floor,” explains Vezenkov.

Zalgirio Arena was packed with Greek fans who couldn’t believe that their team would be down for the count just after 20 minutes of action.

And then, the captain talked.

“Our captain Kostas Papanikolaou took a step forward and talked about our labors throughout the season. We couldn’t just be in the Final Four and treat this game like that. He believed that we had a lot to give and that a turnaround was possible.”

The perfect storm

What happened afterward was almost an out-of-body experience for everyone in the gym, including Vezenkov.

“I remember that we didn’t realize while we were playing that the run was 27-2. We saw the numbers after the game.”

It was a historic quarter by any measure, but taking place on the Final Four stage, with all the pressure that comes with that, made it jaw-dropping.

Only three more times in the EuroLeague history and never in a Final Four had a team been held to just two points in a quarter. What’s more, the record for the biggest point difference in any quarter is 27 points, just 2 more than Olympiacos’s historic performance. In more than 5,000 games before that this century, only 12 teams had a bigger winning margin for any quarter.

Needless to say, the 25-point difference for Olympiacos in those 10 minutes was a Final Four record for any quarter, as well, surpassing Real Madrid‘s 35-14 advantage over Fenerbahce Istanbul in the second quarter of their 2015 semifinal.

“It was crazy because as we were making the comeback, the fans were buzzing and pushing us,” Vezenkov recalled. “Decibels were rising. We were feeding off their energy and we just couldn’t be denied”.

Nobody could expect such a turnaround but the explanation of what happened is simple, per Vezenkov: “Our energy and our effort, especially on defense. Nobody could get past [Isaiah] Canaan and [Thomas] Walkup. We all jumped for the rebounds, and we missed a few but this was by far our best defensive quarter of the season. We were trying to find a way to get to the final and, simply, that was the way”.

With everything clicking, Olympiacos got hot on offense, too, ending the quarter having made 8 of 9 two-pointers made, 3 of 5 threes, and 2 of 4 free throws while dishing 10 assists against just 1 turnover.

“After that, we got loose in the offense, we were free-flowing, with cuts, great passes, and three-pointers. I remember every shot we made in the third quarter, especially a crazy three by [Giannoulis Larentzakis] in the end. We conceded just one basket, in transition after making a turnover. They simply couldn’t score against us five-on-five. We made the fouls when we should have, we fought, we were diving for the ball. Everyone on the roster who stepped on the floor helped and played defense.”

More to come

Olympiacos ultimately was defeated in the championship game, but its third quarter belongs in the history books.

As Vezenkov says: “It was a huge moment, to get such a quarter in a Final Four game. Of course, Monaco’s lack of experience was a factor, but in general, I think this was one of the most devastating basketball quarters that I remember.”

Olympiacos triumphed, but it was Monaco’s two wins in the regular season that fed the fire of head coach Georgios Bartzokas’s players.

And this time, playing at home, Monaco has to respond, as Vezenkov expects and suspects.

“We did it against a team that beat us twice in the regular season. They were a really hard opponent; we all remember the playoffs of 2022. So this is a matchup that always produces a spectacle, and that will happen also this time.”