Group G will be the only one whose Final Four berth is decided in the last week of the Top 16 after Barcelona lifted itself into first place on Thursday with a tense 55-58 road win at Olympiacos in Athens. Dejan Bodiroga's 3 foul shots in the final 37 seconds finished the scoring and the game for Barca, which is now 4-1 in the standings. Barcelona still needs to beat Union Olimpija (3-2), which blew out Adecco Asvel at home on Thursday, in the Top 16 finale at home next week in order to qualify. Olympiacos (3-2) will visit Asvel hoping that Olimpija can win in Barcelona, because the Reds currently hold the point advantage in any three-way tie. Barcelona led much of the way in Athens on Thursday, but DeMarco Johnson's game-tying jump shot left the victory up for grabs in the final minute. Only Bodiroga scored after that, while two big defensive plays by Gregor Fucka denied Olympiacos baskets. Fucka led the winners with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks, including one on a Maurice Evans drive that saved the victory for Barca. Sarunas Jasikevicius added 12 points and Bodiroga 11, including 7 in the last quarter, for Barcelona. Nenad Markovic led all scorers with 21 points, including 4 three-pointers, while Johnson followed him with 13 for Olympiacos.
The joint was jumping in Athens for tipoff. Nikos Boudouris was assigned to guard Bodiroga and fouled him before a shot was taken, but a Barca turnover leading to a fastbreak layup by Christos Harissis pleased the local crowd. However, soon it was the Reds throwing away two possessions as Barca patiently looked inside to Dueñas. He would make three shots - on an assist from Jasikevicius, a baseline jumper and a putback of an offensive rebound - as the visitors went ahead 4-6. The lead and the inside game kept flourishing for Barcelona, with a new contributor in Fucka, whos first two baskets were sandwiched around a Dueñas dunk assisted by Bodiroga. But in the midst of thos was the first three-pointer for Olympiacos, by Evans, who also exploded a dunk to keep the Reds within 11-13. T Olympiacos bore down on defense to start the second quarter with an 8-3 run to get as close as 18-22. DeMarco Johnson had 3 of those points but the first 2 had come at the foul line by the player who kept Olympiacos in the game until halftime, Nenad Markovic. His first three-pointer made it 21-24 and his second got the Reds to within a single bucket, 26-28, about 4 minutes before the half. Points had been scarce for Barcelona until Dueñas pulled a big offensive rebound off a missed foul shot. The ball went out to Jasikevicius, who drilled a triple for a 26-32 Barcelona lead. Markovic totalled 11 points in the quarter with a pair of free throws, but Fucka added his own in the final minte for a 28-35 Barca lead, almost matching its biggest advantage until then. What was remarkable thus far whas not who scored, but who didn't, with Bodiroga limited to 2 points on foul shots and Milan Tomic scoreless for Olympiacos.
As in the previous quarter, another offensive rebound that made its way to Jasikevicius for a triple gave Barcelona the chance to run away at 28-40. But the Reds were far from done. After a timeout, Tomic came out and drained his first triple from the arc, and when Markovic copied him a few minutes later, Olympiacos had a 10-2 run and was within 39-42 on the scoreboard. Most remarkable was the Olympiacos defense. After the shot by Jasikevicius, only Rodrigo De la Fuente was allowed to make a basket the rest of the quarter, and that was a difficult reverse. Meanwhile, Tomic and Evans scored 2 points each to put scoreboard at 43-45 after 30 minutes.
The defenses were brutal until the final quarter, and now they turned relentless. Between fouls, misses and turnovers, neither team scored for a full 3 minutes until Markovic drove, switched hands and rolled in the shot that tied it 45-45. Suddenly, everyone was scoring, including Bodiroga with his first basket, Johnson for the Reds, and then Navarro for Barcelona. The visitors led 47-49, then Navarro, with just under 4 minutes left, added 2 free throws for a 47-51 lead. Johnson scored over Dueñas and Jasikevicius made 2 free throws. Then Markovic changed the game again, taking a cross-court pass and nailing a huge three-pointer for 52-53. A pair of Bodiroga free throws kept Barca's cushion at 53-55 after Ignacio De Miguel missed a foul shot for Olympiacos. But after a broken play by Barca, Johnson hit a sweet jumper outside the lane and the scoreboard was tied again, 55-55- with a minute to play. Jasikevicius missed a three-pointer, but Johnson's next shot over Deuñas fell out, too, and the Reds fouled Bodiroga on a drive. He made 1 of 2 this time, good to get the lead back for Barcelona, 55-56. The next possession was crucial for Olympiacos, but when Evans drove looking for a foul, he got a blocked shot courtesy of Fucka. The rebound went to Bodiroga, who was fouled by Evans, his fifth. Bodiroga was cool at the line, making both for a 55-58 lead, and now Olympiacos needed a triple to survive. Markovic took two, but neither had a chance, and Barca left a silent arena with command of first place in Group G.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
Vassilis Skountis, Athens