Olympiacos is completely back in the Group C race - and maybe not just to qualify for the Top 16 - after beating dangerous Tau Ceramica 81-72 for its fifth consecutive win on Wednesday in Athens. The win boosts Olympiacos' record to 5-5, and dropped Tau to 5-5 as well, and they could be tied for either fourth or fifth place after Idea Slask (5-4) plays on Thursday. In an eventual tie between Olympiacos and Tau, the Spaniards would hold the head-to-head points advantage, having won the teams' first match by 15. Panagiotis Liadellis continued to be the main man for the Reds. He finished with 25 points, 23 of them in the second half, and held Tau scoring star Arvydas Macijauskas to only 2 points in the final 20 minutes. Goran Jurak finished with 15 and 8 rebounds for Olympiacos, while Dalibor Bagaric posted a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Kornel David led Tau with 19 points, while Luis Scola scored 12, Macijauskas and Andrew Betts 11 each. After falling behind by double digits, Tau nearly creeped back in the game in the fourth quarter, but Liadellis scored 9 points over the final 3 minutes to keep Olympiacos in the driver's seat.
In the first period, the Reds showed great balance between the perimeter players and the front line, getting 13 points from their starters Harissis, Liadelis and Giorgios Diamantopoulos, while the big men Bagaric and Jurak contributed 6 points apiece. Tau took a 16-19 lead late in the quarter thanks to Kornel David's offensive effort, but Oympiakos went on a 9-0 run to close the first quarter at 25-19. In the last seconds of the period, Olympiacos coach Dragan Sakota put captain Milan Tomic in the game and the fans offered him a standing ovation in appreciation of his 201st European game in a Reds uniform, his 200th having come on the road last week.
With Andres Nocioni on the injured list, Tau needed more from Macijauskas and they got it in the second quarter. Macijauskas warmed up and his shooting cut the margin to 29-26 early in the second period. Jurak had the answer for Olympiacos, hitting a triple and the hosts took a nine-point lead, 37-28. The Spanish League leaders managed to come closer at 37-32 after an open jump shot by Pablo Prigioni, but Boris Gorenc replied with 5 consecutive points that extended Olympiacos's lead to 40-33. It was a totally balanced game between two very well-prepared teams, but the hottest player at the buzzer was Prigioni, who scored from downtown exactly when the clock ran out, cutting the margin to 42-40 at halftime.
After 2 bad minutes at the end of the first half, the Reds came back to dominate. Liadelis was extremely hot as he helped Olympiacos build its lead back to double digits. Scoring 12 points in the third quarter, Liadelis picked apart Tau's defense and gave Olympiacos a 10-point lead at 62-52 late in the quarter. Bagaric and Vaggelis Sklavos each scored baskets, while Tau inched forward with hoops from Scola and Betts. Scola's 4 points plus a blocked shot on Diamontopoulos in the final minute kept Tau from being swept away. Still, at the close of the third quarter, Olympiacos was ahead 64-54.
Tau charged back at the beginning of the fourth quarter thanks to consecutive baskets from David and Scola, making the score 64-61. The teams went point-for-point for a few minutes, as Scola, Macijauskas and Jose Manuel Calderon all knocked down shots for the Spanish side. But after Tau pulled to within 68-65, they ran into a familiar nemisis - Liadelis - who matched the Tau shots with tough baskets over a great defender, Calderon, and then made a crucial free throw that gave Olympiacos some breathing room at 79-72. By the time Liadellis was finished with his scoring outburst, Tau was forced to take a quick three-pointer, which got blocked by Jurak, and there the visitors' hopes ran out.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004