Two proud teams pulled out all the stops in their drive for the Top 16 from Group C on Thursday, and when the dust settled in Athens, Olympiacos had a 71-68 victory over Real Madrid. The outcome meant that Olympiacos now joins Madrid and Virtus Bologna in a three-way tie for third place at 6-7. But as a result of the victory by Olympiacos, Virtus is going to the Top 16, because those two teams play next week, and no one else who can finish even with the Italian team can force it to lose a tiebreak. Olympiacos will have to wait for that last game to secure its own spot. On Thursday, the Reds rallied from double-digit deficits late in the first half to win on big plays, both offensive and defensive, by veteran Nenad Markovic down the stretch. DeMarco Johnson led the winners with 20 points. Markovic added 18, Maurice Evans 12 and Juan Morales 10 for Olympiacos. Despite the return of point guard Damir Mulaomerovic and shooter Alberto Herreros from injury on Thursday, Madrid now faces a home game against Adecco Asvel to assure its own Top 16 spot. Herreros and Alex Mumbru led Madrid with 13 points each against Olympiacos, while Derrick Alston and Eduardo Hernandez-Sonseca put up 12 each.
Real tried to dictate the tempo from the very first moment of the game and not to allow Olympiacos easy points. It worked, too, as the Spanish team took a 1-5 lead. But after DeMarco Johnson found his path in the paint, Olympiacos made a 7-2 run, good enough to lead 8-7. Madrid answered with 4 consecutive points to retake the lead at 8-12, but then Christos Harissis hit a three-pointer for 13-13. At the end of the first period, the result was 15-17, a prelude to the close game that everyone was expecting in Athens.
Olympiacos coach Lefteris Subotic had started the game with twin point guards, Nikos Boudouris and Christos Harissis, but since Maurive Evans scored just 2 points, the Reds needed one more shooter, in this case Nenad Markovic. Madrid coach Javier Imbroda took the opportunity to play his own point guard tandem, Lucas Victoriano and Mulaomerovic. With this duet in the backcourt, the visitors managed not only to control the game, but to run well and finish 5 for 7 fastbreaks. Those transition points fed a 12-5 Madrid run to five-point lead, 24-29, which soon soared into double digits, 29-39, after 19 minutes. Olympiacos could only take one basket back before halftime arrived with Real Madrid sitting 8 points ahead, 31-39.
Olympiacos got the boost it needed to start the third quarter as Evans scored 5 fast points, but the major success of the Reds was the defense they were now playing, which permitted no new fastbreaks to the Spanish guests. After 5 minutes, Olympiacos had amassed a run of 15-4, good enough to take the lead at 44-43. The Reds would keep that lead for the rest of the third quarter and pull in after 30 minutes with a 50-47 lead to protect on its home court for the big finish.
Then came a thrill-a-minute fourth quarter. Olympiakos built a margin 58-53, but Alex Mumbru stood up for Madrid with 5 points to tie the game, 58-58. Mumbru and Markovic comitted fourth personal fouls each, but stayed on the court, and that was absolutely positive for the Reds. Markovic scored 5 consecutive points to keep his team alive, but Madrid rallied again to lead, 63-66. Back and forth went the scoring runs, but Olympiakos had the last one, 8-2 over the last 2 minutes of the game. Markovic made the biggest play of the game, a steal which alowed Olympiakos to seal the victory. Before the steal, however, Markovic dropped 2 free throws from a flagrant foul, good for a 69-68 Olympiacos lead. Evans added another foul shot for 70-68 and then Subotic ordered his team to defend without fouling. Victoriano missed a three pointer, Mumbru missed a hook shot, Johnson was fouled and he made 1 for 2 free throws, for 71-68. On the last play of the game, Victoriano was fouled by Milan Tomic. He missed both free throws, trying for a rebound and a three-pointer, but it didn¿t work. So Olympiakos beat Madrid for the sixth consecutive time in a home game and stayed alive to take a spot in the Top 16.
Thursday, February 6, 2003
Vassilis Skountis, Athens