And then there were four.
On Friday night, defending Turkish Airlines Eurloeague champs Olympiacos Piraeus rallied from down 12 points in the third quarter to beat Anadolu Efes in a thrilling Game 5 of the quarterfinal series, 82-72, thanks to Vassilis Spanoulis going for 19 points and 5 assists. With the win, Olympiacos now joins Real Madrid Baloncesto, CSKA Moscow and FC Barcelona Regal at the Euroleague Final Four in London beginning with the semifinals on Friday, May 10.
That's the stage where big games will be played and big shots and plays will be made. But who will take and make them or leave their mark in London?
By going inside the numbers, here's a quick look at four players to watch at the Euroleague Final Four.
Kostas Papanikolaou, Olympiacos
Last year at the Final Four, Georgios Printezis hit a game-winning floater over Andrei Kirilenko with 0.7 seconds left (and after trailing by 19 points in the third quarter) to give Olympiacos an incredible 62-61 comeback win over CSKA Moscow. But lost in that memory is the fact that Papanikolaou (whose rights are owned by the Portland Trail Blazers) led Olympiacos in scoring by finishing with 18 points. So what will the 22-year old small forward do for an encore?
A smooth lefty, Papanikolaou is not only a deep three threat (he led ranked 2nd in the Euroleague at 59.4% in 3-pt% during the season), but has been a reliable scoring option and defender both in the Top 16 and playoffs against Efes. In the Top 16, Papanikolaou averaged 12.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, while ranking 4th in 3-pt% (52.4%) and 10th in blocks (13 - total).
While Vassilis Spanoulis, Kyle Hines rank first and second on the team in scoring during Euroleague play, Papanikolaou (who ranked third at 12.2 ppg.) matches their toughness and couples it with a high basketball IQ (0.9 turnovers per game) and knack for playing big in big game situations. This time around in London will be no different.
Marcus Slaughter, Real Madrid
If you can avoid being distracted by the in-game antics of Rudy Fernandez (see: flopping, antagonizing the opposition, drawing the ire of the fans) and the all-types-of-awesomeness beard of Sergio Rodriguez, it's important to understand Real Madrid's bench could be the difference maker.
Along with Fernandez and Rodriguez, Sergio Lull, Nikola Mirotic and Jaycee Carroll round out a starting give that can more than hold their own. However, the second unit must be ready to step-up and probably no one more than Marcus Slaughter.
The 6-foot-9, 236 pound power forward/center went from averaging 11.8 points and 6.9 rebounds (and shooting 56.4%) in 10 Euroleague games with Brose Baskets Bamberg in Germany, to securing a hefty deal in Spain this season and dropping his production to 4.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game (27 games). And while his shooting percentage increased to 63.3% per game, his playing time was down from 25.5 minutes per game to 18.4 minutes per game. Needless to say, Slaughter has battled making the adjustment to his new role, but what better way to break out than at the Final Four.
Without a doubt, he can be a game changer on the defensive end.
Back in late November against Fenerbahce Ulker, Slaughter went for 12 point and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes in the 77-61 win in what was his best outing in the Euroleague to date. Can the big man reclaim that form for Read Madrid? If they want to advance, they'll need all the extra muscle they can get from Slaughter.
Victor Khryapa, CSKA Moscow
Just ask Caja Laboral Vitoria. In Game 4 of the playoffs, they all witnessed Khryapa capture MVP honors after dropping a double-double (19 points and 12 rebounds) in 25 minutes to help clinch the series and advance to London. But it's not like the versatile forward hasn't been beasting throughout the playoffs.
Keep this mind: Khryapa averaged 10 points and 7.5 per game over 24 Eurloeague games and during the playoffs against Caja Laboral, he boosted his scoring to 18. 5 points per game, while grabbing 8.3 rebounds per game in the four game series. Those numbers also helped Khryapa rank in the Top 5 in five statistical categories including defensive rebounds (ranked 2nd, 29 total), steals (ranked 3rd, 7 total), total rebounds (ranked 3rd, 33 total), index rating (ranked 3rd, 74) and assists (ranked 5th, 17 total).
Don't be surprised to see Victor Vladimirovich Khryapa have an impact on both ends of the floor at the Final Four.
Juan Carlos Navarro, FC Barcelona Regal
When it comes to the Euroleague, they don't come any more decorated than "La Bomba".
After spending one season in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies where Juan Carlos Navarro was named to the All-Rookie second team in 2007-08, he returned to Regal and wasted no time capturing Euroleague honors and staying consistent with such honors moving forward: Euroleague MVP in 2009, Euroleague Final Four MVP in 2010 and a member of the Euroleague All-Decade Team in 2010 -- just to name a few.
So, where does the legend go from here? Up appears the only option based on what Navarro accomplished in the playoffs against Panathinaikos Athens. In the five game series, he averaged 13.6 points and essentially shot lights out from both the field and beyond the arc by ranking 1st in both 3-pt. made (16) and field goals made (28). However, there is one other stat that stands out: 1st in points scored (83).
Watch out for the jumper.
Be aware of the no-look pass.
And good luck defending against that floater in the lane.
The scary part is Juan Carlos Navarro is just getting warmed up.