Barcelona storms into playoffs by blowing out Fener!
FC Barcelona not only stayed perfect in the Top 16, but also qualified early for the playoffs with a masterful 93-73 blowout win over visiting Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul in the Game of the Week on Thursday. The victory lifted Barcelona to an unblemished 9-0 record in Group E and extended its Top 16 win streak to 21 games over two seasons, both of those all-time Euroleague records. Most important, Barcelona assured that it will advance to the next round and can now concentrate on clinching first or second and getting home court advantage in the playoffs. On Thursday, a 14-2 run to open the second half broke the game open and Barcelona never looked back as it took leads as high as 26 points in the fourth quarter. Having received his bwin February MVP award before the game, Ante Tomic scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half to pace the winners early. He made 8 of 9 two-pointers and 3 of 4 free throws. Bostjan Nachbar followed with 13 points on perfect shooting, 2 two-pointers and 3 threes, while Jacob Pullen and Juan Carlos Navarro added 12 points each. Barcelona forced Fener into 17 turnovers while getting 23 assists to just 13 for the visitors and outshooting them from long distance, 14 threes to 4. Nemanja Bjelica led five double-figure scorers for Fener with 15 points and pulled 10 rebounds. Bo McCalebb, Pierre Jackson and Bojan Bogdanovic added 11 points each, while Linas Kleiza had 10, but the visitors saw their record drop to 4-5 as they continue to fight for a playoff spot from the middle of Group E.
First quarter: Fener overcomes slow start
Tomic started the scoring with 2 perfect free throws, to which Navarro added the game's first three-pointer for a quick 5-0 lead. First-time Fenerbahce starter Blagota Sekulic dropped a layup that Tomic matched with one of his own. McCalebb's first basket, a drive, was answered by Navarro blasting another shot from the arc. Bjelica drove baseline and dunked to keep Fenerbahce close before Emir Preldzic was fouled shooting from deep and made 2 of 3 free throws for a 10-8 scoreboard. Another free throw by Preldzic preceded his pass to Bjelica for a go-ahead layup at 10-11. Tomic quickly took the lead back, forced a 13-13 tie and then pushed Barcelona in front again with consecutive baskets at 17-13. Bogdanovic came off the bench for his first points, from the foul line, before Melih Mamuhtoglu's layup tied it up, 17-17. Brad Oleson's go-ahead free throw was bettered by with a jumper from McCalebb, which held up for an 18-19 lead for Fenerbahce at the end of 10 minutes.
Second quarter: Tomic takes over
Joey Dorsey rocked house with 2 free throws and a strong put-back to send Barcelona ahead 22-19 to start the second quarter. Pullen joined the fun by swishing a triple on his first attempt to make it a 7-0 run. McCalebb challenged and scored over Dorsey to restart Fenerbahce's scoreboard, but Alex Abrines fed the Barcelona center for an easy dunk in response. Bjelica drained a second-chance two-point jumper, but Nachbar bettered him with three from the corner as Barcelona's lead reached 30-23. Tomic added his sixth two-pointer without a miss to that lead before Kleiza got in Fenerbahce's scoring column with free throws. Pierre Jackson's open jumper closed the difference to 32-27 before Tomic snagged an offensive rebound and put it back. Tomic was unstoppable with another put-back, although Jackson answered quickly. Kostas Papanikolaou got free at the three-point line for his first points and a 39-30 lead. Tomic's first miss hurt as Bogdanovic buried a triple in transition. Tomic fed Marko Todorovic for an easy layup, just as Preldzic assisted Luka Zoric. But Oleson got the last word on the second quarter with a three-pointer that sent Barcelona into the locker room nursing a 45-38 advantage.
Third quarter: Navarro, Nachbar push accelerator
Navarro heated up with a big triple and free throws to open the second half by giving Barcelona its first double-digit lead. When a steal led to a dunk by Nachbar, it was 52-38 and Fenerbahce needed a timeout. The fourth Fenerbahce turnover of the quarter already also led to a fastbreak basket by Nachbar before Jackson made an acrobatic layup that was matched by Marcelinho Huertas. After another Fener turnover, Nachbar popped off a screen to bury a three-pointer and suddenly it was 59-40. McCalebb stopped the bleeding for the visitors with a layup before Tomic joined the second-half Barcelona scorers. Then Nachbar hit a transition corner triple to stretch the lead to 20 points, 64-44. A layup by Bogdanovic was the easiest basket in a long time for the visitors, but otherwise the scoring stalled as the third quarter ended 64-48 in favor of Barcelona.
Fourth quarter: Shooters send Barca into playoffs early
Erazem Lorbek and Preldzic hit dueling three-pointers to open the fourth-quarter scoring floodgates. After Pullen crossed over to make a layup, Bjelica went coast to coast. Next, Pullen and Lorbek sandwiched open three-pointers around a shorter jumper by Jackson, forcing another Fenerbahce timeout at 75-55. Out of that, Abrines became the seventh Barcelona player to knock down a three-pointer and then a Pullen fastbreak layup made it 80-55. The hosts were content with trading baskets, while their offensive rebounds and steals kept Fenerbahce from cutting into the difference. With more than 5 minutes to go, it was clear that Barcelona had mastered another opponent in what many consider as tough a Top 16 group as seen in the Euroleague for some years. It has also assured itself early entry to the playoffs, the first team this season to do so. The only question remaining was whether any two Group E teams might challenge Barcelona for home court advantage in the next round, which looked unlikely as the hosts left the court feeling invincible at the moment.
Thursday, March 6, 2014