It is win or go home for both Panathinaikos and Maccabi Electra in Euroleague Playoffs on Thursday.
A direct, highly-anticipated battle to reach the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four takes place in Athens, Greece on Thursday, when Panathinaikos hosts Maccabi Electra in make-or-break Game 5 of their best-of-five playoffs series. Both teams have been able to win at home and on the road, and all games have been very different from each other, so it is hard to predict what to expect in Game 5 other than high intensity, drama and a great crowd at OAKA. It is a rematch of last season's Euroleague final and the 30th time that both teams go against each other. Above all, it has been an outstanding playoffs series between two Euroleague powerhouses, so don't miss the chance to enjoy one of the best showdowns that European basketball can offer.
Both teams are injury-free and ready to face each other at full power.
Above all, Maccabi needs to stop Panathinaikos' starting backcourt, Dimitris Diamantidis and Nick Calathes. Diamantidis is the reigning Euroleague MVP and never disappoints in make-or-break games. Calathes has averaged 14 points and 6 rebounds in both wins against Maccabi but just 6 points and 3 rebounds in two losses. Diamantidis will not have it easy against Yogev Oyahon, who led all rebounders in Game 4 with 9 boards. His court sense, deep range and aggressivity have made Oyahon become Maccabi's X-factor in this series. He will have plenty of help from Demond Mallet and Theo Papaloukas, whose experience will be critical in this game.
Of course, Panathinaikos relies on Sarunas Jasikevicius to change the game with his legendary court vision and deep range off the bench. Romain Sato and Kostas Kaimakoglou will try to make the difference at small forward. Sato will have the tough mission to guard Devin Smith, in great shape recently where Kaimakoglou may see playing time at power forward against sharp shooter David Blu. Maccabi has plenty of options at both wings, but none as consistent as Keith Langford, who has scored 12 points or more in 10 of his last 11 Euroleague games. Tal Burstein offer much-needed defense and experience while Guy Pnini can come off the bench and pull the trigger from downtown. Langford will not have it easy against Calathes and David Logan while Pnini and Burstein are set to battle against Sato and Stratos Perperoglou.
As usual, and even when he is seeing limited playing time, stopping Sofoklis Schortsanitis will be a critical issue for Panathinaikos. Richard Hendrix and Shawn James will split minutes at center while Lior Eliyahu will try to make the most out of his mobility and quickness at power forward. Eliyahu will not have it easy against Steven Smith and Kostas Tsartsaris. Meanwhile, Schortsanitis and Hendrix must battle hard against Mike Batiste and Ian Vougioukas. All of them were in the Euroleague final last season, so they know what it takes to win big games like this. After four tough showdowns, however, it will go down to who wants it more, plays with more concentration and intensity and handles pressure in the best way possible
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