Armani Jeans Milano held on for a thrilling 76-74 win over Olympiacos to start the Top 16 on the right foot. The hosts led from start to finish and the gap increased to as much as 15 in the third period before the Reds mounted a fourth-quarter comeback. However Mike Hall scored 8 of Milano’s last 11 points and grabbed 2 clutch rebounds to keep the hosts on top. And a little luck didn’t hurt either as Lynn Greer stumbled after making contact with Hollis Price in the closing seconds and Olympiacos never got off a final shot to tie – or win – the game. David Hawkins and Luca Vitali paced Milano with 15 points apiece. Jobey Thomas added 14 and Hall finished with 13. Georgios Printezis paced Olympiacos with a career-high 22 points and Nikola Vujcic added 10 points and 5 assists. The Olympiacos defense is what kept it in the game, forcing 20 Milano turnovers, but poor shooting – 2 for 16 from downtown (12.5%) and 14 for 22 from the line (63.6%) ultimately doomed the visitors.
Pape Sow started the game well for the hosts with a power move for a three-point play and then a second basket in the paint before Vujcic corrected his own miss for the Reds’ first score. Vitali buried a three-pointer to continue the hosts’ strong start, but Michalis Pelekanos – starting in place of the injured Josh Childress – made his presence felt with his first three of the season. And Greer drove for a basket that closed the gap to 1. Vitali remained hot with a pair of jumper that kept Milano on top despite baskets at the other end by Panos Vasilopoulos and Printezis for Olympiacos. Printezis corrected his own miss to further narrow the gap and Theo Papaloukas’s steal led to a free throw that tied the game at 18-18. Yohann Sangare handed off to Mason Rocca for a basket in the paint, but the hosts had no answer for Sofoklis Schortsanitis at the other end. Hawkins buried a three that gave the hosts a 23-20 lead after 10 minutes.
Armani Jeans thrilled the crowd with a sequence that started with a Rocca block and ended with a Thomas triple. Schortsanitis was called for an offensive foul as he overpowered Rocca en route to a slam and Papaloukas, who made his displeasure with the call known to the referees, earned a technical foul. Thomas sank the resulting free throws and then Price pulled up for a three – his first points for his new club – to cap an 11-0 charge that gave the hosts their first double-digit lead and caused Olympiacos head coach Panagiotis Giannakis to take a timeout. Newcomer Jannero Pargo ended the Olympiacos drought inside, but the visitors still hadn’t found a way to slow down the Armani Jeans attack. Hall electrified the crowd with an offensive rebound and slam only to see Ioannis Bourousis dunk at the other end. The teams continued to trade baskets as Milano kept a comfortable lead. Vitali spotted Hawkins for an open three that gave Milano its biggest lead yet, 12. Papaloukas found Vujcic for a layup that made it 42-32 at halftime.
Hall’s triple early in the second half gave Milano a 13-point lead and after Printezis scored inside, Vitali struck from downtown to make it 48-34. Yotam Halperin stormed the paint for a layup-plus-foul, but he missed the resulting free throws – the Reds’ third miss from the line in two minutes. Printezis’s steal and slam cut the Olympiacos deficit to 10, but on the ensuing play, Greer pushed Vitali and was called for an unsportsmanlike foul. Vitali sank 2 free throws and soon buried a three to push the lead up to 15. Even after Printezis threw down a monster jam on the break, Thomas buried another AJ three. And he quickly followed that one with another to make it 61-45. Printezis’s hustle kept the visitors from falling too far behind and a Papaloukas layup ended the period at 62-53, leaving the visitors hope for a fourth quarter comeback.
Pargo assisted to Printezis as the Reds clawed their way closer and an offensive foul on Price allowed Olympiacos to get to 5 on a Vujcic basket. Hawkins rose to the occasion with a three, but Printezis came through again for Giannakis. Bourousis narrowed the gap to 4, resulting in a Milano timeout. Olympiacos tightened its defense and a Pargo triple made it 65-64 midway through the fourth quarter. Hall kept the hosts ahead with a three-pointer, however the Reds answered with Vujcic’s low-post basket. Hall hit from downtown again, but this time Zoran Erceg responded with a jumper. Vujcic made it 71-70 from the line with a pair of free throws with 1:45 to play. Hall grabbed an athletic offensive rebound and laid it in and then grabbed a big defensive rebound at the other end. However a turnover led to a Papaloukas basket in transition that kept it a 1-point game with 45 seconds to play. The Reds sent Sow to the line with 21 second remaining hoping for some bricks, but he didn’t oblige and sank both. Greer drove and was fouled with 13 seconds left. He made both and after a timeout, Milano took almost seven second off the clock before Olympiacos sent Thomas to the line. He made only 1, but Greer slipped on his way down the floor and Olympiacos didn’t get the chance for a last shot as Milano celebrated the victory.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009