With a veteran core joined by a few key newcomers, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens started the 2017-18 season with an expectation of returning to the playoffs as just the first of several big goals. The Greens had to wait through all 30 rounds to know that they would meet the second of those objectives, home-court advantage in the playoffs, but they certainly did a lot to earn it.
A pair of five-game winning streaks, one early in the season and another to end it, were among the highlights, as was the fact that Panathinaikos beat every team in the league save first-place CSKA Moscow at least once. Its second victory overall was a two-pointer over defending champion Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul that pointed the way to good things.
Despite a last-second Round 5 road loss right after that to Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz, Panathinaikos bounced back to win the next week on the court of archrival Olympiacos Piraeus. That launched the first streak, with Panathinaikos triumphing in the last five rounds of November and point guard Nick Calathes being named MVP of the Month.
One of those November wins came at home in comeback fashion against Real Madrid and was ultimately worth home-court advantage in their upcoming playoff series.
The Greens didn’t lose two games in a row until facing higher-ranked CSKA and Fenerbahce in mid-January, but despite soon getting revenge against Baskonia, dropped three in a row to playoff teams stretching into early March.
A final push that included the return of Mike James saw Panathinaikos turn things around with three consecutive wins away from home during a five-game streak to end the regular season and squeak into fourth place with an overtime victory in Milan.
If there was a question about Panathinaikos during the season, it had to be the team’s lopsided home success, where the Greens finished 13-2, as compared to road record, which was 3-9 at one point. But those last five wins erased that doubt.
If the Greens return to the Final Four for the first time in six years, the perseverance they displayed by competing through those extra five minutes in the last game of the long regular season may be looked back on as one of the big reasons why.