If anyone really cared to question who was the real boss of Group C, CSKA proved it with a thrilling 77-79 road win at hot Olympiakos on Thursday that propelled the Russians straight into the Top 16! A layup in the final 2 minutes by Alexander Bashminov gave CSKA the lead for good and Nikos Hatzivrettas preserved it at the foul line. With a record of 8-2 now, and with losses by the bottom three teams in the group this week, CSKA is assured of its place in the Top 16. Hatzivrettas was the big gun for CSKA with 17 points, including 13 of 14 free throws, but his only miss came in the final half-minute. Olympiakos missed two chances after that, however, and with those its chance to challenge CSKA's leadership. In fact, the Reds dropped all the way to fourth place at 5-5, still two victories ahead of its closest Top 16 pursuers with four regular season games left. Sergei Panov and Victor Alexander added 13 points each for the winners and J.R. Holden 12. Olympiakos was led by Maurice Evans with 21 points, DeMarco Johnson with 16, Ignacio De Miguel with 11 and Milan Tomic with 10.
After 10 minutes of playing time in Korydallos arena, one thing was obvious. Both Olympiakos and CSKA were ready to use all their strength, inside and outside, to get the upper hand in the game. The Russians managed to seize the first significant lead of 5 points, 12-17 after 8 minutes, as Hatzivrettas scored 8 points and Alexander 5. The Reds had their answers, however, in Nenad Markovic and Evans, who shot their way to 7 and 6 early points, respectively. Evans got to the line for Olympiakos on the last play of the quarter and when his free throw went down, the locals had an already hard-fought 20-19 advantage. It was going to be that kind of game.
If Alexander had his say inside in the first half, Johnson decided to speak in the second for Olympiakos, scoring 10 points on his own as the Reds soared to one of the bigger leads anyone has had against CSKA all season, 35-27, with 4 minutes left until the half. But in that span of time, CSKA replied with 6 points from Holden, whose incredible drives caused many problems to the local defense. By the end of second period, the Olympiakos lead was pared to 40-37. Hatzivrettas and Johnson led all scorers with 10 points each, while three more players, Evans and Markovic from Olympiakos and Alexander from CSKA, had scored 9 each in a fast game with many highlights.
Theodoros Papaloukas, the former Olympiakos point guard, had been greeted by boos when he touched the ball for CSKA in the first half. Now, after the break, he answered by keeping CSKA in the game. Playing in a twin point guard set with Holden, Papaloukas scored 7 of his 8 points for the night in the first 7 minutes after halftime as CSKA went ahead 44-45. Olympiakos showed huge psychological strength, however, by coming on with 10 consecutive points to transform the scoreboard at 54-45. Evans was incredible with 16 points already, while Christos Harissis offered important help offensively, hitting a big three. At the opposite end, CSKA was struggling in the quarter. Hatzivrettas had no points in the quarter and none of his CSKA teammates picked up the spark from Papaloukas. After 30 minutes, the Reds were leading by 7 points, 61-54.
In a game with many protagonists, Panov managed to exalt himself at the perfect time for CSKA. His 8 points early in the fourth quarter, including one crucial three-pointer, powered a 4-12 run by the visitors to a new 65-66 lead midway through the period. Alexander now left with 5 fouls, however, so others would have to step up for CSKA. But first veteran captain Tomic did so for Olympiakos, dropping his three-point bomb for a 73-72 Reds lead just 2 minutes before the end. Hatzivrettas hit 2 free throws to take back the lead, 73-74, but Tomic answered for 75-74. That's when Bashminov unfurled a fantastic lay up that took the charge away from Olympaikos for good. CSKA was up 75-76 and Johnson could have put the Reds back in front, but missed 2 free throws. After Hatzivrettas made 2, however, Johnson got a basket to keep Olympiakos within 77-78. Hatzivrettas, 12 for 12 in foul shots until then, now missed the second of a pair, making it 77-79, and giving the locals the ball and chance to tie or win. Well, neither Evans nor Harissis could hit the net in the time left, and CSKA escaped with a historical road win for coach Dusan Ivkovic, the coach whose legend was forged with the Reds.
Thursday, January 9, 2003
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens