Tau Ceramica is collecting Greek monuments like an archaeology student. The modest club from Vitoria, Spain became the first and perhaps most unexpected of Euroleague semifinalists on Wednesday when it knocked out Greek power Olympiakos with a resounding 98-76 victory at home before 9,500 delighted home fans at Fernando Buesa Arena. That gave Tau consecutive two-game playoff sweeps in best-of-three series against the cream of the Greek League, Peristeri and Olympiakos. And in both cases, Tau faced a homecourt disadvantage and had to win the first games on the road. Ironically, if AEK Athens defeats Benetton Treviso in one of the remaining quarterfinals, it will have to face Tau under the same circumstances ? or move to a neutral country to avoid giving the Spaniards another chance to win in Greece.
Tau went for the kill in the middle quarters Wednesday behind the leadership of do-everything point guard Elmer Bennett, who not only outplayed his direct opponent, David Rivers, but used that advantage to beguile the rest of Olympiakos as well. Bennett finished with 27 points and was seconded on the inside with 21 points from center Victor Alexander. A second-quarter full-court press which began with a Bennett steal and led to 7 unanswered points for Tau in under a minute was the spark that lit the fuse that fired Olympiakos out of the series. Tau would end up winning the middle quarters 53-31, which proved to be the same 22-point margin as the final score.
Tau came out ready to rock in the first quarter, but Olympiakos wouldn't let its hosts go anywhere fast. Ekonomou got involved quickly with a three-pointer that tied the score at 8-8. A couple minutes later, Radja pulled down an offensive board and shot from the baseline for the first Olympiakos lead, 14-13. Ekonomou would have to hit another three plus a driving basket for Olympiakos to close out the quarter with a 19-22 lead.
"The game has gone almost as we planned it beforehand," Tau coach Dusko Ivanovic said. "We got back strong and we left Ekonomou open a lot, to see if he tried to win the game by himself, knowing also that he couldn't."
An impossible three-pointer from the wing by David Rivers helped Olympiakos lengthen that lead to 21-25 early in the second quarter, but that would be basically the end of the visitors' fun. In the Game 1 it was the imposition of a zone with double point guards by Tau that turned the game around. Now, another defensive change would signal the beginning of the end of the series.
The twin point guards, Bennett and Chris Corchiani, were back, but this time their trick was a little fullcourt pressure. What looked like a normal inbound press totally unnerved Olympiakos so much that Tau was able to steal the ball three consecutive times, getting easy baskets from Bennett, Mindaugas Timinskas and, finally, a three pointer by Chris Corchiani. The home team suddenly had control of the scoreboard, 28-25. Olympiakos would not get the lead back again, but cut the deficit to one at 37-36. The next play by Tau was a four-point play by Timinskas which propelled Tau to a 43-38 halftime lead.
Fabricio Oberto Fouls called toward the end of that second quarter, the third on Dmitir Papanikolau and the fourth on Milan Tomic, provoked such complaint from the Olympiakos bench at halftime that the third quarter started with Tau receiving technical free throws, two of which Stombergas sank for a 49-38 lead. There was no looking back for Tau as middle men Fabricio Oberto and Luis Scola began running the floor with the irrepressible Bennett as the lead just kept growing. It hit 20 on a feed from Bennett to Oberto that made it 68-48. Olympiakos never challenged after that.
Wednesday, February 28, 2001