Union Olimpija of Slovenia shut down Panagiotis Liadelis and shocked PAOK at home in Thessaloniki, Greece with a 69-73 victory Wednesday in the winner-take-all Game 3 of their playoff. Olimpija's win completed the third upset of the Euroleague Playoffs and sent the Slovenians on to a date with top-seeded Kinder Bologna in next week's quarterfinals. Sani Becirovic scored 18 points, Emilio Kovacic 16 and Mindaugas Zukauskas 12 to balance out Olimpija's offensive attack. But the game was won on the boards, where in the absence of PAOK's ace rebounder, Giannis Giannoulis, Olimpija ruled with a 47-29 rebounding advantage. The surprise was in the PAOK scoring column, where point guard Evangelos Koronios rode 5 three-point field goals to a game-high 24 points and Giorgos Sigalas added 14. Liadelis, author of 58 points in the first two games, was held to 4 points in the first half and finished with 11. Five of those were free throws, otherwise he shot 3-for-18.
The first half was filled with the unexpected surprises, not the least of which was Becirovic and Zukauskas on the bench at tipoff. As expected, PAOK rebounder Giannis Giannoulis was out with his back injury. But Sigalas gave the home crowd a quick boost, reeling off nine points as PAOK raced to a 19-9 lead. Olimpija's response began with Becirovic's first basket, on the last play of the first quarter, and continued until the Slovenians took their first lead at 26-27 on a Beno Udrih three-pointer. But the scoring star of the first half was Koronios, who had missed Game 1 with the flu and scored all of 2 points in 15 minutes of Game 2. Now, however, Koronios was on fire. He made a trio of three-pointers in the half and, when they fouled them on one attempt, canned all three of the foul shots, too. Appropriately enough, his two free throws put PAOK ahead at the half, 37-36.
For Olimpija, it was hard to characterize as bad news a defensive job that held Liadelis to 4 first-half points, but you had to wonder if he wouldn't be compelled to get his points down the stretch. At the same time, however, PAOK was hurt by three fouls to Sigalas in the first 15 minutes. He had done the offensive damage at crucial times in the first two games.
Four early points by Liadelis put PAOK ahead 41-36 shortly after halftime, but that was was as high a lead as either team would get in the third quarter. Koronios's fourth three-pointer seemed to give PAOK the lead headed into the final quarter, but a tip-in by Primoz Brezec restored the honor to Olimpija, at 48-49. Brezec added a free throw and Becirovic two as that lead reached 52-48 with 8 minutes remaining, but at the five-minute mark, here came Koronios with his fifth three-pointer to tie it at 55-55. Again, however, it was the visiting underdog who surged ahead, as a dunk by Brezec and a fastbreak layup by Udrih make it 57-63. Just like that, however ,Valeri Daineko scored five straight points in a minute, cutting the deficit to 62-63 and setting up a final two-minute showdown.
Kovacic's tap of a miss by Becirovic gave Olimpija breathing room, before a dunk by Brezec made it 62-67. Liadelis reacted but a follow up basket by Kovacic, making it 64-69 with under a minute left was decisive. The final miss by Liadelis was a three-point attempt with 11 seconds to go and his team down 69-72. It too, missed, and with it went the quarterfinal.
Wednesday, February 14, 2001