Winterthur FC Barcelona is going back to the Final Four!
Barcelona became the last Final Four qualifier by downing archrivals Real Madrid 76-70 in front of a sellout crowd of 8,000 at home in Palau Blaugrana on Thursday in the last game of their best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoff series. As such, the 2003 Euroleague champions advanced to Prague, where they will face CSKA Moscow in one semifinal. Two-time defending champ Maccabi Elite faces Tau Ceramica in the other. It took some big shots to accomplish Thursday's thrilling victory, none bigger than Gianluca Basile's go-ahead triple with a minute to go. It rattled, bounced high and fell back through the net: Madrid never recovered. Michalis Kakiouzis led Barcelona with 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting off the bench. Juan Carlos Navarro added 15 points and Fucka had 12 for Barcelona. Louis Bullock had 17 points for Real Madrid, Igor Rakocevic 14 and Alex Scales 10. Bullock had 12 points in the first half to give Madrid a 38-39 edge, but Barcelona stayed loyal to its strong man-to-man defense while Kakiouzis and Navarro gave the hosts a 59-52 lead early in the final period. It all came down to the final minute, in which Basile's triple fell while Bullock missed twice from downtown. Fucka sealed the win with an uncontested layup, allowing Barcelona fans to celebrate a return to the Final Four.
Navarro got Barcelona started after the opening tipoff with a basket-plus-free throw that Mickael Gelabale answered with an alley-oop layup. Rodrigo De La Fuente fed Shammond Williams for a big triple, giving Barcelona a 6-2 lead. It didn't last long, however, as Felipe Reyes hit his trademark five-meter jumper and Bullock followed with consecutive three-pointers. Hamilton and Reyes capped a 0-12 Madrid run with consecutive jumpers from the top of the key as Barcelona struggled at both ends, making poor shot choices while allowing the guests to get open. Navarro woke the crowd up with a big triple which brought the hosts within 9-14 midway through the period. Reyes headed to the bench with a second foul that let Fucka hit free throws to make it 11-14. Mous Sonko rescued Madrid with a corner triple and then followed Denis Marconato's put-back basket with another from downtown, good for a 13-20 margin for the guests. Basile joined the three-point festival before Madrid called timeout at 16-20. Barcelona now had troubles against the guests' zone defense until Fucka shined with an acrobatic layup. Scales fired in a huge triple but Kakiouzis beat the buzzer from beyond the arc to fix the score at 21-23 after 10 minutes.
Rakocevic slashed for a power layup, his first basket, but Kakiouzis bettered him with a corner triple and Fucka added a free throw as Barcelona tied it 25-25. Scales kept pacing Madrid with a long jumper, while Fucka made 2 more from the foul line. Madrid had already entered the foul bonus and opted to use a small lineup with Gelabale at power forward. Free throws by Basile put Barcelona briefly in charge, 29-27, as Rakocevic hit a stop-and-pop jumper which Edu Hernandez-Sonseca followed with a dunk for a 29-31 Madrid edge. Kakiouzis scored around the basket while Bootsy Thornton made free throws in a 5-0 Barcelona run that Jordi Trias capped with a foul shot. Madrid called a much-needed timeout and Rakocevic was next in the free throw line, making 2 of 3 to bring his team within 34-33. Madrid switched back to zone but Ed Cota beat it with a floating layup. Bullock copied him at the other end, after which Thornton fed Kakiouzis for a breakaway dunk. Madrid had the final word in this quarter, however, as Bullock followed free throws with a driving layup to give his team a 38-39 halftime edge.
Madrid carried on powering the offensive boards right after the break, and even when Barcelona improved its defense, De la Fuente and Fucka missed 2 free throws apiece. As such, both teams went scoreless for almost 3 minutes until Rakocevic finally broke the ice with foul shots, but Fucka matched it with a layup for a 40-41 Barcelona deficit. The hosts forced a 24-second violation that allowed Navarro to score in the other end, while Marconato's two-handed dunk set the crowd on fire and the scoreboard at 44-41. Madrid quickly called timeout, after being limited to just 2 points in 5 minutes. Reyes scored in the paint and Hamilton hit free throws for a 45-45 tie, as both teams had entered the foul bonus. Barcelona now could not find the way to the basket while free throws by Rakocevic and Josh Fisher gave Madrid a 45-48 edge. Fucka fed Kakiouzis for a basket-plus-foul and Navarro hit his trademark floating layup, but Axel Hervelle nailed a step-back three-pointer to keep the guests ahead, 50-51. Kakiouzis scored coming off the baseline and then followed Navarro's free throws with a layup to capped a 6-1 run and give Barcelona a 56-52 lead after 30 minutes.
Navarro fired in a seven-meter three-pointer which gave Barcelona its biggest lead so far, 59-52, early in the final period. Bullock immediately answered from downtown, his first point in the second half, before Roger Grimau found space for an easy layup which forced a Madrid timeout at 61-55. Madrid kept looking for Bullock and Rakocevic now, as the latter buried a big three-pointer while Bullock fed Gelabale for a two-handed dunk which brought the guests within 62-60. Grimau stayed on fire with a critical triple, as both teams went scoreless in the next couple of minutes until Hamilton stepped up with a tip-in for a 65-62 Madrid deficit. Marconato scored inside for Barcelona but Scales banked a triple which made it a two-point game, 67-65, with 4 minutes to go. Marconato kept pacing the hosts with a put-back layup which Bullock erased with a jumper off a Madrid timeout. Rakocevic tied the game, 69-69, with a fast break layup, but Barcelona found a go-to guy down the stretch. Basile fired in a crucial triple which hit the rim, went up and fell, already in the final minute. Bullock missed twice from downtown at the other end, while Fucka sealed the win with a layup, 74-69, with 15 seconds to go. Scales just made 1 of 2 free throws, enough for a majority of fans in the standings to celebrate that Barcelona is back in the Final Four!
Thursday, April 13, 2006