It was just one play when his team was struggling against an unbeaten opponent that seemed to have all the answers so far this season, but it showed what a difference leadership can make.
Kostas Sloukas was stuck on the baseline in another dead-end offense for Olympiacos Piraeus late in a first half in which his team struggled to score despite his 5 assists until then. With no time to pass on this occasion, he conjured a flailing shot that danced around the rim before falling in and earning a free throw that he would make, too.
Several players had big hands in Olympiacos handing AX Armani Exchange Milan its first loss of the season on Wednesday. But Sloukas put both hands and both feet into the eventual 86-75 victory.
Having grown up with the Reds and lifted trophies with them in his first two full EuroLeague seasons, he left in 2015 to continue his winning ways with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, becoming a three-time champ in 2017. Along the way, Sloukas appeared in seven Final Fours over eight seasons and, remarkably, in the championship games of the first six of those.
Now 30 years old, Sloukas returned to Piraeus this summer and on Wednesday posted his first double-double in an Olympiacos uniform, 17 points and 11 assists. He also played 36:12 minutes, his most with ever the Reds. All of his gamesmanship was needed, too. The Reds trailed Milan by 34-42 before Sloukas dishing to Georgios Printezis for a two-pointer to finish the second quarter, just as they had connected on a triple to end the first. After the half, he and Shaquielle McKissic assisted each other on threes as Olympiacos took a 49-48 lead, then Sloukas remained a constant presence, dishing 4 more assists and scoring 7 more points, as Olympiacos kept dangerous Milan at bay.
A first home win, coming against a previously undefeated opponent, meant a lot, Sloukas said after:
"This was a very crucial game for us, after our bad [opening-game home] loss against Zalgiris. We were motivated – excellently motivated, I can say – because we played against a great team. And I think we controlled the second half of the game and we deserved the win."
The victory recalled the kind of not-in-our-house vibe that Olympiacos modeled throughout the last decade. A silent leader, Sloukas didn't have to talk that attitude, because he walked it the whole game, even when the Reds were struggling, as he admitted to have been doing himself while combining for a PIR of just 3 in the season's first two games.
"I know that I was here seven years, but still it was difficult in the beginning," Sloukas said. "But my teammates, the coach and the whole staff have helped me."
Indeed, on Wednesday, Sloukas looked mighty good in red once again.