The first big upset and wild finish of the Euroleague playoffs came in the first game to be played on Wednesday. Tau Vitoria went to the house of Peristeri in Greece and pulled off a 79-81 shocker despite allowing the incredible Alphonso Ford to score 41 points for the home team. Tau's top scorer, Saulius Stombergas, nailed a three-point dart off a screen with 4.8 seconds remaining to win it, just after Manolis Papamakarios had scored his first two points on free throws for Peristeri's first lead, 79-78, of the second half. Papamakarios took the final shot, too, for Peristeri, but that missed wide from halfcourt. As such, Tau negates Peristeri's homecourt advantage in the best-of-three series, with the opportunity to steal the series at home in Spain next week. Winning at Peristeri was no mean feat. On Greek soil this season, Peristeri remains undefeated in its domestic league, and had only lost to Zalgiris in the Euroleague, before Wednesday night.
But Ford almost would not allow his team to lose. His virtuoso performace, with 41 points and 10 rebounds, was capped by a three-pointer launched over Tau center Fabricio Oberto, that pulled Peristeri within 78-77 with 28 second left. Those 41 points amount to a new single-game record in the Euroleague. The old record was Ford's, too, 35 points against Adecco Estudiantes of Madrid early in the season. Ford was also his team's leading rebounder with 9 on Wednesday.
Laurent Foirest TAU started the game well, pulling ahead (9-11, 13-16, 19-24) and warning the home team of what was about to come. The first quarter finished with only a 3-point lead for TAU (23-26), but in the second period, Peristeri came back into the game thanks to the 20 points by an unstoppable Ford. The teams went into the halftime with a minimum lead for the Greek team (45-44). But tonight, Peristeri depended too much on Ford, and TAU played as a team. This was the crucial difference. Fabricio Oberto threw down some spectacular dunks, Laurent Foirest hit some important baskets, and Victor Alexander began playing for real in the second half, while the point guard, Elmer Bennett, was the perfect conductor of it all. The final result was a team victory.
After a technical foul called on Peristeri's bench, half way into the third quarter, TAU gained a 10-point lead (54-64, 56-67 after a three-pointer by Foirest). This noticeable lead was gradually cut down by Peristeri who, at the end of the game, almost managed to win. Bhe final three by Stombergas blew all Peristeri's aspirations away. "We wanted to win a game with a tight score" said Dusko Ivanovic, TAU's coach. "Of course I'm happy, but this victory only means that now it's we who have the home court advantage, but we're not on the quarter finals yet. Peristeri has players like Ford and (Byron) Dinkins who can decide any game and a difficult game is awaiting at home". On tonight's game, Ivanovic said that "the key was our great performance in the third quarter, but in the last minutes we only wanted to maintain our lead and that almost led us to the final defeat. Ford was hot tonight, he even scored over some of our tallest men."
Wednesday, January 31, 2001