We have finally arrived! After a long season of great game action, we have narrowed it down to the league’s two best teams duking it out for the final prize! Both the Outlaws and the Tune Squad took care of business in the semifinals to earn the right to go head to head for the championship. Before we preview the final game, let’s go over how the semifinal games went:
Outlaws 88 Warriors 62
The Outlaws came out dominant in this first semifinal, not allowing rust or revenge to cloud their minds and inhibit their play, as they cruised to a wire to wire win over the Warriors to book their place in the final. The Outlaws came out blitzing in the first half, in pure attack mode in their shot selection and on the boards. The Outlaws’ interior game, typically a weakness on an otherwise fantastic team, was an absolute strength in this game. The strong rebounding from Pete Kada and Stephen Thomas allowed the Outlaws to take advantage of the two elements of the game that they excel best at: second chance scoring opportunities and running in transition. This was obvious and apparent in the first half, as the Outlaws quickly built up a 20+ point lead by halftime and never got close to relinquishing it. Laz Makrides led the way with 26 points and looked locked in from the start. These Outlaws played like champions, and now, they only need to replicate this marvelous performance one more time to secure the title. As for the Warriors, their tremendous run to end of the year came to a screeching halt, as they struggled out of the gate in the first half. With the Outlaws running and gunning while also dominating the boards, the Warriors couldn’t get into a groove with their motion offense and their pressure D. The second half saw the Warriors find their scoring touch, but by then, it was too little too late. Fortunately for the Warriors, they’ll be a year more seasoned and more experienced by next season, and they certainly have the chemistry and athleticism to do some more damage next season. Adding another big man or a sharpshooter could certainly put them over the top.
Tune Squad 73 PAS Giannina 66
The other semifinal featured a much closer encounter, with both teams trading blows until the very end. Tune Squad came out swinging, as they scored the first dozen points of the game before PAS could even blink. However, PAS gathered themselves, slowed the game down, and made the necessary adjustments to counterpunch Tune Squad right back, as they clawed to within two points late in the first half. However, a couple of long ball 3s from Demetri Zanikos and Ben Voudouris allowed Tune Squad to restore their double digit lead at the tail end of the first half, swinging the momentum right back to the 2nd seeded Tune Squad. In the 2nd half, with a relatively comfortable lead in hand, Tune Squad then began to use PAS’ strategy against them, as they slowed the game down and took opportune attempts at the basket while limiting PAS’ outside shooting on the other end. This strategy ran smoothly through the direction of Louie Karapanagiotides, the Tune Squad’s rigid, cerebral, and always steady point guard. Louie did a little bit of everything, as he directed the offense from the point while also scoring 18 points, and the rest of his teammates followed suit to allow the Tune Squad to outlast PAS and advance to the final. As for PAS, it was a second straight year in which they made a deep playoff run, and they played better and better as the season went on. I had initially picked them to finish last in the league this year, but they made me eat my words as they bounced back from their poor start to finish as the #3 seed and just a couple of buckets away from another appearance in the championship game. If they can add a couple younger, more athletic 3 and D players to their already deep roster, they’ll certainly be back next season to challenge for the title.
Outlaws vs Tune Squad
After all of the games and all the action, we are left with the league’s clear two best teams. Both teams love to run, love to shoot the 3 ball, somewhat lack on the interior, and have versatile individual players on the perimeter. For the Outlaws, when they are slowed down in the run and gun offense, they typically like to exploit individual defensive matchups by leaning on the trio of versatile star forward Laz Makrides, sharpshooting combo guard Jimmie Armentani, and bruising forward Pete Kada, as all three have the handles to create their own shot in the paint and all can shoot the 3 ball. As one man drives to the bucket, the others typically stand on the perimeter to take advantage of the collapsing defense and hit the open three pointer. The Tune Squad defenders will have to be on their toes all game in their individual matchups, as they Outlaws will cause them problems if they are not careful. The Tune Squad will additionally have to keep an eye out for pick and rolls, as these allow the Outlaws to further exploit individual matchups. Defensively, the Outlaws like to play just as aggressively, as they like to limit the 3 ball and jump into passing lanes and shot attempts, hoping to create blocks and steals to further fuel their transition game. Their length will cause problems for the Tune Squad, whose personnel somewhat lacks length (relatively speaking).
However, if there is any team that is best equipped to counter the onslaught of the Outlaws, it is certainly the Tune Squad. They are quick, athletic, deep, and are fantastic in their ball movement on offense, which can certainly neutralize the Outlaws and their desire to jump every passing lane. Sharpshooters Ben Voudouris and Demetri Zanikos can also match the Outlaws bucket to bucket in their 3 point attempts. Defensively, the Tune Squad will have to be able to switch every assignment. But theoretically, a 4 guard lineup of Louie Karapanagiotides, Zanikos, Stef Grigorakakis, and Alexi Topalidis, grouped with the lanky Chris Voutsakis as a small ball center, can certainly do this, as all 5 have quick feet, long arms, and excellent anticipation skills. The 6′ 3″ Voutsakis will be the X-factor for sure, as he is perhaps the only guy in the league that can match up inch for inch and pound for pound with Makrides, who stands at least 6’5″ tall. If Voutsakis is able to neutralize Makrides, the Outlaws will be in some trouble, thus placing more of the playmaking burden on Armentani, who thrives more as a scoring machine rather than a distributor.
As far as the game goes, I can almost certainly say that it will be an offensive shootout, with plenty of three pointers, slick passing, and breakaways. I would not be fooled by the Outlaws’ two dominant wins over the Tune Squad in the regular season, as the Tune Squad did not have all of their available players. When all hands are on deck, these two teams are so evenly matched that I believe this game to be a coin flip. Unfortunately, as Mr. PGBL, I have to make a prediction. And to me, when all hands are on deck for both teams, I believe the Tune Squad to be slightly deeper and slightly more athletic, and I believe that they can match the Outlaws bucket for bucket, slow down Makrides (at least slightly), and squeak it out to win the title.
Prediction: Tune Squad over Outlaws 78-75