A whole new city worth of fans in Lamia, Greece, some 200 kilometers from Athens, saw Euroleague basketball at its toughest on Thursday, but had to go home disappointed as a familiar face, Dejan Bodiroga, shot Barcelona to a 57-62 Group A victory against hard-charging AEK. With all of AEK's home games to be played this season in Lamia due to 2004 Olympics preparations in Athens, the fans there can expect better nights without Bodiroga in the house. The dean of European players saw his team lose all of a 19-lead it had held late in the third quarter and decided enough was enough. Bodiroga took the ball, scored Barcelona's last 7 points and pulled key rebounds to secure the road win. Barcelona improved to 2-0 and joined Efes Pilsen undefeated atop Group A, where AEK fell to 0-2. Bodiroga finished with 22 points and Juan Carlos Navarro 17 for Barcelona, whose defense had held AEK to just 35 points through three quarters. AEK got 19 points from Rodney Blackney. Rodrick Blackney led AEK at the beginnig of the game, scoring 7 fast points, good enough to keep the Greek champions in the game. Kakiouzis started to play his usual defense against Dejan Bodiroga and the game was very close and defense oriented. AEK took an 11-10 lead, but when AEK coach Dragan Sakota decided to change his defense to a 2-1-2 zone, Bodiroga sank a three-pointer to give Barcelona an 11-13 lead. Svetislav Pesic then gave some fresh legs to his team, calling on four players from the bench, one of Barcelona's strengths. The only starter who remained on the court was JNavarro and he proved the right choice of his coach. With one of his so-called "bombitas·, Navarro scored at the buzzer to break a 13-13 tie and give Barcelona a 13-15 edge after 10 minutes.
Thanks to great defense and more of a variety of alternatives on offense, Barcelona managed to make an 0-6 run to ahead 13-21 to start the second quarter. That gave the visitors the confidence they needed to dominate the game. Trying to find defensive solutions, Sakota sHifted again to man-to-man, trying Vassilis Kikilias and Christos Tapoutos on Bodiroga. But the superstar forward, knowing the Greek team well from his years with Panathinaikos, had no problem making the right decisions. In minute 16, big Roberto Dueñasgave Barcelona its first double-digit lead, 17-27. A minute later, he followed a basket by Gregor Fucka to make it 18-32. AEK scored 5 consecutive points, but Barcelona kept dominating, and despite a jumper by Kakiouzis at the buzzer, was able to reach halftime 9 points ahead, 25-34.
Nothing changed at the third period as Barcelona took the opportunity to maximize its lead to nearly 20 points by scoring 14 points in a row. Barcelona's size advantage in the absence of injured AEK strong man Demos Dikoudis made the difference. The Catalans dominated under the boards, so AEK returned to a zone defense, only to be punished from three-point distance by Navarro. At the same time, Pero Antic committed his fourth foul and the Yellows had another problem with big men to solve. Two minutes before the end of the quarter, Barcelona looked unstoppable as its margin swelled to 19 points, 31-50. AEK got two baskets back before the quarter could finish 35-51, however, and providing a hint of their comeback ideas.
Those ideas came to fruition with an 8-0 run to start the final quarter thanks to defensive pressure and the resulting fastbreak opportunities. Antic left after his fifth foul, but AEK didn't lose its aggressiveness. Barcelona looked a little tired and was missing its concentration as well. AEK kept coming back, as its run hit 24-4 and culminated with 5 straight points from Kakiouzis, including the three-pointer that tied the game, 55-55, with 3 minutes left. Then, however, came Bodiroga time. The hero for Panathinaikos in the spring and the Yugoslav national team in the summer took over for Barcelona here in the fall. At the most crucial moment of the game, he scored a jumper and 2 free throws for a 55-59 lead that allowed Barcelona to breathe again. He also pulled a pair of key rebounds, but AEK still knocked har as Blakney's jumper 13 seconds before the end made it 57-59. Bodiroga now went to the free throw line, making the first and missing the second, but Nacho Rodriguez secured the offensive rebound to seal the win for Barcelona, 57-62.
Thursday, October 17, 2002