Caja Laboral blasted Unicaja 78-63
Caja Laboral held off Spanish League rival Unicaja 78-63 to remain in control of its destiny in Turkish Airlines Euroleague Top 16 Group E. Marcelinho Huertas scored 18 points and dished 5 assists to lead the Spanish champs, who improved to 3-2 and can win the group and homecourt advantage in the playoffs with a victory next week at Lietuvos Rytas, but can also miss the playoffs with a loss. The hosts pulled away late in the third quarter after allowing Unicaja to tie the score at 40-40. The lead reached a high of 17 in the fourth quarter ad Laboral celebrated a pivotal home win to stay in the thick of the playoff battle. Brad Oleson added 16 points for the winners, Mirza Teletovic and Fernando San Emeterio netted 12 each and Stanko Barac tallied 10. Nedzad Sinanovic scored 18 to lead Unicaja, which dropped to 1-4 and saw its playoff hopes disappear. Joel Freeland posted 15 points and 8 rebounds and Gerald Fitch scored 11 in defeat.
The game started with good rhythm, but both teams lacked accuracy and no one was able to find the net for the first two minutes. It was Freeland who first broke the trend with a layup against Barac, but Huertas answered immediately taking advantage of a defensive mistake of the guests. Barac and Huertas erupted at that point and combined to give their team the first lead of the game, 6-4 after four minutes. Unicaja’s backcourt took over for a short edge, 7-8, midway through the first quarter. The following timeout was like a medicine for Caja Laboral’s disease, awaking the hosts’ defense. Teletovic, with a short jumper, was followed by a powerful layup by Oleson, while San Emeterio hit once from the line for a 12-8 lead with three minutes to go. Unicaja couldn’t find anyone on its offense able to end the drought and San Emeterio made it even deeper with his first three of the night to bring the home fans to their feet. The visitors called for an urgent timeout and the orders were to feed Freeland and Sinanovic inside to punish the Laboral frontcourt. It worked fine, as Sinanovic hit three times under the basket, but the hosts found consecutive three pointers by Oleson, Teletovic and San Emeterio to close the first quarter with a solid margin, 24-14.
Oleson opened fire in the second, but Sinanovic kept rocking and scored again to maintain the 10-point deficit. Oleson, doubtful because of an injury over the previous days, proved totally recovered and scored again as Sinanovic headed to the bench to finish their particular scoring contest. Despite Unicaja remaining scoreless for almost three minutes, the hosts weren’t able to increase the margin because of a bad shooting streak. Teletovic broke the trend with a low-post move capped with a nice basket. Georgios Printezis nailed the first trey of the night for the guests to set the score at 30-19 with four minutes to go in the half. Fitch and Terrell McIntyre tried to repeat from the same distance, but the rim looked like it was sealed for Unicaja’s shooters. A pair of free throws by David Logan extended the lead to 32-19, but Laboral couldn’t go further due to more intense work by Unicaja’s frontcourt. Freeland and Sinanovic combined inside to bring their team within 35-27 with less than two minutes to go, and at the same time Unicaja decided to switch to zone defense to finish the quarter. It lasted just one play, as Logan took over and sunk a corner three pointer followed by a two-handed dunk off a steal to return a double-digit lead to the home team. Freeland and McIntyre, from the free throw line, allowed Unicaja to stay into the game as the score showed a 40-31 Laboral advantage at halftime.
The visitors showed up very focused after the break, forcing turnovers and scoring with ease at the offensive end. Fitch opened fire with a nice layup, while Freeland punished Teletovic with 5 points in a row to make 40-38 two minutes into the half. Fitch added another fast-break layup off a steal to tie the game and force an urgent timeout by Dusko Ivanovic. Nerves took over for the guests, while Robert Archibald wasted an open shot preventing Unicaja from taking the lead. Barac didn’t forgive and scored 2 free throws, followed by a nice pass to Teletovic, to awake the home team when the situation turned critical for them. Another layup by Marcelinho, who took advantage of a turnover by Unicaja, capped a 6-0 run that gave the hosts a 46-40 margin midway through the quarter. Even though the visitors tried to stop the bleeding with a timeout, Huertas came up big with a corner three that made it a 9-point game. With this comfortable parachute, Laboral played its best basketball, running in offense and controlling the boards. Even though Uros Tripkovic tried to start a comeback with a three, Oleson and Barac dunked for a 58-49 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Things got even worse for Unicaja after Teletovic hit from downtown, followed by a layup off a steal by Huertas early in the fourth. Unicaja, 14 points down, looked ready to give up and settle with its elimination from the playoffs as San Emeterio extended the lead to 16 through a one against zero layup off an offensive rebound. Unicaja head coach Chus Mateo called for a timeout with seven minutes to go and switched to zone defense as a last attempt to keep his team alive and breathing. It worked fine in the beginning, but Oleson found the net from downtown after three plays and set a 68-51 lead midway through the last quarter, so the guests got back to man-to-man defense right after that. Fitch shortened it with a huge three, while Sinanovic exploited his size to score a layup under the basket to bring Unicaja within 68-56 with four minutes to go. Both teams exchanged baskets for a few moments, something that prevented Unicaja from thinking seriously of a comeback. Berni Rodriguez nailed a fastbreak three-pointer entering the last two minutes to make it 72-63, but it meant nothing because Huertas was already in charge of the situation. A pair of free throws and a steal by the Brazilian playmaker in the last minute sealed the win for Caja Laboral.
Thursday, February 24, 2011