Krka may not be going to the Top 16, but as it had all season, the upstarts from Novo Mesto, Slovenia have left a huge mark on the Euroleague, one that the fans of Pau-Orthez will not erase from memory soon. Down 16 points headed into the fourth quarter on the road in Villeurbanne, Jaka Lakovic, Mate Skelin & Co. stormed back for a shocking 74-84 victory that knocked Pau-Orthez out of the Top 16. Skipper Bologna's players should go home from Moscow by way of Slovenia to give thanks, for without that rally that could do nothing for Krka itself, the famous Italian club would have been eliminated on points in a three-way tie with Pau and CSKA. The thanks go to Lakovic, who led his team with 14 points, and to James Brewer, whose four points ignited Krka's 0-13 run to start the final quarter. Pau still led by 7 points, 70-63, with about 4 minutes to play, but another Krka run, this 0-10, finished off the huge comeback. Mate Skelin, runner-up in the regular season MVP race, added 15 for Krka. Dragan Lukovski led Pau with 20 points and Roger Esteller added 14. Both teams finished at 7-6, out of the money in fifth place in Group C.
With a a lot of defensive aggressiveness and offensive quickness, Pau-Orthez immediately imposed its pace on the game. Point guard Dragan Lukovski scored 6 points in a row as the French champions took an early lead of 9-4. They even dug out a 10-point margin on a Roger Esteller three-pointer that made it 17-7. Novo Mesto was knocked down but reacted in a fantastic way. The Slovenians, disturbing the host with their zone defence, made 0-11 run behind Lakovic to go ahead by 2 at the end of the first quarter, 19-21.
After scoring 9 points in the first 10 minutes, Lakovic continued his show. He scored one more basket on the drive to give Krka a three-point lead, 22-25, early in the second quarter . Pau reacted, notably on two Mickael Pietrus long-range shoots, inflicting a 7-0 run to retake the lead from Krka at 29-25. The French team continued its effort, even after a three-pointer nailed by Krka forward Boris Gnjidic. Now the hosts tore away a 13-1 run. Thanks to a very good accuracy from behind the arc (7-for-12 threes), Pau was comfortably ahead again, 44-29. The Slovenians could only manage to reduce the margin a bit in the last minute of the half, which ended with a 10-point lead for the French, 44-34. With 13 points, Lukovski was the leading scorer of the first half. Lakovic and Mickael Pietrus had 11 each.
Pau-Orthez started the second half with a 4-0 run. In that streaky game, Krka answered with a 2-7, keeping the game alive at 50-43. Both defences intensified and the offences could hardly express themselves. The French finally managed to find the solution, accelerating the pace of the match. On fastbreaks, they put Krka into danger, as the Slovenians trailed by 16 at the end of the third quarter, 66-50.
Yes, it was a streaky game. Krka proved it again, going on an incredible 0-13 run to start the final period, thanks notably to a hot point guard in James Brewer (4 points) and the drives of Lakovic. The Slovenians were totally back in the game, down just 66-63 with 6 minutes to play. Pau-Orthez remained scoreless for five minutes. Boris Diaw finally managed to break that drought on four-point play, a three-pointer followed by a free throw. The Palais des Sports could breath again, with Pau leading 70-63, or so it seemed. Brewer and Lakovic answered with two consecutive three-pointers. Lakovic added four free-throws. That 0-10 run put Krka ahead 70-73 with 2 minutes left. Pau and its fans were living a nightmare. When Brewer stole the ball with 1:30 to go and scored an easy layup, Krka was up 72-77 and on its was to a 74-84 victory.
Thursday, February 14, 2002
Julien Guerineau, France