When in doubt, call on an MVP. That seemed to be Montepaschi Siena's motto on Wednesday as it registered a crucial 77-62 home win over Group B leader Tau Ceramica. The MVP that Montepaschi called on was power forward Mirsad Turkcan, who wasn't the least bit intimidated by Tau and put up an incredible double-double of 21 rebounds and 18 points to power his team to victory. And if Turkcan was unflappable under pressure, he was helped a lot by unstoppable Alphonso Ford, who drilled 19 points from every position, in every way imaginable. Vrbica Stefanov, after a long warm up, came off the bench and added 15 points for the winners. For the visitors, Bill Phillips and Andres Nocioni scored 14 apiece. Montepaschi evened its record at 5-5 to join Unicaja, a loser earlier at Zalgiris, in fourth place in the group. Tau's record fell to 7-3, but it will have to wait until Thursday to find out if Panathinaikos or Union Olimpija can catch up to tie it in first place.
Tau came into the game with an aggressive attitude and defense, forcing a high pace early in the match. But that raised the question of whether the visitors could keep it up despite a bench depleted by injuries. Soon, the duels started all over the court. Inside the paint, Roberto Chiacig and Rashard Griffith staged a lusty physical battle, something between basketball and sumo, crashing and crashing again. But both payed for it, too, going to the bench with foul troubles. Along the perimeter, Tau defensive ace Laurent Foirest became the glove around Ford, but that didn't stop Montepaschi's rifle. Ford tallied 7 points in the first period, and right behind him was Turkcan with 6 based on hard work under the rims. Tau point man Jerome Allen drove his teammates with quick ball distribution and a lot of smarts, seeking out Nocioni again and again. It was enough for Tau to escape the first 10 minutes with a 15-19 lead.
The match continued nervously, with both teams finding the path to the basket difficult and full of contact. With Griffith benched, Tau coach Dusko Ivanovic didn't switch to a zone defense, but put up with the mismatch between Nocioni and Turkcan. Montepaschi tied 2 minutes into the second quarter and then took a 32-25 lead. Siena lost many important opportunities to surge ahead and Tau was able to keep in the match. Montepaschi coach Ergin Ataman was forced to switch to a 2-3 defense and Montepaschi went to the lockerroom with a 35-28 advantage on the scoreboard. Turkcan already had a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Ford was up to 9 on 4-for-4 two-poiners. Nocioni and Phillips led Tau with 6 apiece, but the visitors paid for cold 1-for-13 accuracy from three-point territory.
If Siena had prospered in the paint in the first half, Griffith now returned for Tau with 6 straight points and a few rebounds afte the break, an important boost for the guests. For Siena, it remained a one-man show as Turkcad swatted Allen's shot twice in a row. Those blocks sent the Siena fans in a frenzy, just what Turkcan likes. He sank a three-point bomb and Siena took a double-digit lead, 46-36. Mindaugas Zukauskas imitated him and Siena hit the runway. Griffith committed his fourth foul, but Tau coach Dusko Ivanovic had no choice but to leave his big man in. Nocioni earned a technical foul kicking the ball as Siena increased the gap to 53-36 with a 7-0 run that had Stefanov's signature. Allen would not let Tau fly the white flag, however. He led a 2-7 run that kept the match alive for Tau at 55-43 after 30 minutes.
The fourth quarter started, but 30 seconds of it was all that Griffith lasted. After he was fouled out, Siena seemed to have the victory in hand, even if Tau never died. With 5 mintues to go, the margin was still 12 points. Ford kept it that high with 7 points in a few possessions. Dusan Vukcevic burnt the paint with 2 drives, and then his perfect assist earned a final 2 points for Turkcan. The game was over and Siena had taken charge again of its home court.
Thursday, January 9, 2003