PAOK's Chrysikopoulos claims Gameday 7 MVP honor after shooting down Iberostar Tenerife
THESSALONIKI (Greece) - On Thursday in Tenerife, PAOK showed up at the airport for their 7am flight a little groggy but in a very good mood. They had claimed, just several hours earlier, a heart-stopping 66-65 victory over Iberostar Tenerife, handing the Canary Islands outfit their first BCL loss of the season.
Yes, the players had a flight to Madrid, then a flight to Athens and then a flight to Thessaloniki, but who cares when you've just knocked off one of the title favorites on their home floor?
No epic trip back to the Greek Peninsula after Wednesday night's win could have been bad for Linos Chrysikopoulos, that's for sure. The 25-year-old forward had the game of his life, or at least his best-ever showing in the BCL, against Tenerife.
He set the tone for a terrific PAOK evening with three first-quarter 3-pointers. He ended up drilling 6 of 7 shots from behind the arc and finished with 24 points.
Chrysikopoulos also had 5 rebounds, a steal and a +25 efficiency as the Thessaloniki club prevailed for the fourth consecutive time in the competition after opening the campaign with three defeats.
And you know what's coming next!
Chrysikopoulos was so good on such an important night for PAOK in the cauldron of La Hamburguesa, where Tenerife hosted and won the first-ever Basketball Champions League Final Four in 2017, that he has been named the Gameday 7 MVP.
Was there a moment that removed any doubt that the MVP award was his? One would have to say, yes, after PAOK's final possession.
"I was feeling really good and was hoping the ball would come to me," he said.
Here's what happened.
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With 28.5 seconds left, Milenko Tepic had the ball in the left corner and passed to Chrysikopoulos, who had just run to a spot just beyond the arc at the top of the key.
Guarded closely by Tim Abromaitis, Chrysikopoulos dribbled to the right of the lane and then cut to his left, into the paint. With Abromaitis still in front of him, hands raised, Chrysikopoulos went straight up and scored for a 66-65 lead.
He was so hot from long range, so why did he drive?
"I felt putting the ball on the floor was the right thing to do because the match-up was right," he said. "A smaller guy wasn't guarding me."
PAOK, after a Tenerife timeout, then followed the instructions of coach Ilias Papatheodorou to perfection. The tactician anticipated that Tenerife guard Thaddus McFadden, a former PAOK player, would get the ball and try to conjure up some magic.
"We knew the last offense of the game was going to be McFadden," Chrysikopoulos said. "Our whole defense was focused on him, just like the whole game. We said for everyone to pack in, so that he couldn't have much space."
Tenerife let 17 seconds go off the clock before starting their play. Sure enough, McFadden had the ball in his hands. He dribbled past Phil Goss but both Chrysikopoulos and Jamal Jones sagged to block his path to the basket.
McFadden went up and lost control of the ball, with Abromaitis picking it up and passing to Javier Beiran, who was a full two meters behind the 3-point line. The Spain international launched a shot but it fell well short as time expired. PAOK celebrated a richly deserved victory.
“EVERY DAY IN THE GYM TOGETHER, WE KNOW HOW TO WORK. WE BELIEVED WE COULD DO SOMETHING BETTER (AFTER 0-3 START) BECAUSE WE WORK HARD EVERY DAY. WE SEE IN PRACTICE WHAT WE CAN SUCCEED IN. THE WAY YOU PRACTICE IS THE WAY YOU PLAY.”
To see where PAOK are now in Group B, with a 4-3 record and in fourth place behind Tenerife (6-1), Umana Reyer Venezia and UNET Holon (both 5-2) would not have seemed likely three weeks into the season because the Greek club was 0-3.
Losing can wear on a player, and a team. It can become a mental obstacle, knowing that each game has ended in defeat. But for PAOK, confidence was never an issue.
"Every day in the gym together, we know how to work," Chrysikopoulos said. "We believed we could do something better because we work hard every day. We see in practice what we can succeed in. The way you practice is the way you play."
So the players, led by captain Vangelis Margaritis and coach Papatheodorou, focused on their work when times were tough. Something else was very clear during the win over Tenerife. The PAOK players were fully concentrated on the task at hand. During timeouts, they hung on every word of Papatheodorou.
"This is the number one thing that our coach asks of us, to be 100 percent ready mentally, to know every time what is happening, what he is saying, what he means," Chrysikopoulos said.
While he has been named the Gameday 7 MVP, Chrysikopoulos knows that might not have been the case had Margaritis played but he wasn't available for the game.
He made sure, immediately in the post-game press conference, to dedicate the win to the team captain.
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Chrysikopoulos, who hails from the Greek island of Corfu, has been coming into his own the past year. He has been selected to represent Greece in the fifth window of the European Qualifiers for next year's World Cup.
"It's a big honor or for every player to play for his country," he said.
He was supposed to play in the first couple of games of the Second Round in September.
"Last time, I was unlucky, one practice before the games I got injured," he said.
For now, Chrysikopoulos is zeroing in on all things related to PAOK. On Sunday, they host Aris in the Thessaloniki derby.