Cedevita follows Pullen to season-closing home win
Cedevita Zagreb concluded a fine Euroleague season by proving it can win at home as well as it did on the road earlier by taking an 83-62 blowout from playoff-bound Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade on Friday. After beating Fenerbahce Istanbul by 30 two weeks ago, it was Cedevita's second consecutive home win by more than 20 points over a playoff-bound team. The winners finished their first Top 16 with a 4-10 record in Group E. Zvezda's record dropped to 7-7 but didn't affect its fourth-place finish and pairing with Group F winner CSKA Moscow in the playoffs next week. Zvezda's highlight was the return of team captain Luka Mitrovic, who missed every previous Euroleague game this season except the very first of the regular season with a knee injury. Jacob Pullen came of Zvezda's bench to hit 4 three-pointers for a team-high 22 points in under 20 minutes on court. Big men Luka Zoric and Miro Bilan scored 12 each while Luka Babic had 10. Zvezda's top gun was also a reserve, Vladimir Stimac, who had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds. Tarence Kinsey followed with 11 and Maik Zirbes with 10. It marked Zvezda's third consecutive loss by 19 points or more, but this one was played without the team's leading scorer and shot blocker, forward Quincy Miller.
First quarter: Cedevita, Pullen blast off
Babic put his head down for a driving layup that was answered by Nemanja Dangubic for Zvezda. Between a free throw and a goal-tended basket by Bilan, Vasilije Micic hit a triple for Zvezda as the teams were tied 5-5. James White buried a jumper for Cedevita, but Bilan's unsportsmanlike foul let Zirbes tie it 7-7 with free throws. Marko Arapovic joined the Cedevita scorers with a hook shot before Bilan tipped in a miss for an 11-7 difference. Cedevita kept pouring it on with a triple from Nemanja Gordic before Mitrovic finished a nice inbounds play for Zvezda to make it 14-9. James White got that basket back for the hosts and then Pullen entered to blast a three-pointer for the first double-digit lead, 19-9. A timeout did nothing to slow Cedevita and especially Pullen, who pulled the trigger on back-to-back triples and drove for a layup before White made a nifty move inside to rocket the difference to 29-12 after 10 minutes.
Second quarter: Hosts stay strong
Pullen stayed hot with a finger-roll layup to open the second quarter before Stefan Jovic fed Stimac for a layup. Zoric get a similar feed from White to join Cedevita's scoring column, then he doubled-down with a baseline jumper. When White went coast-to-coast with a rebound, it was suddenly 37-14 and Zvezda needed to talk it over. Pullen fed Zoric for a slam right after the timeout but Branko Lazic did the same for Stimac. After Fran Pilepic joined Cedevita's scorers, Marko Simonovic did the same for Zvezda, but from downtown, to make it 41-19. Simonovic was next to score, again from three-point distance, though from the opposite wing, but Babic hit 2 for 2 free throw in response at 43-23. Stimac backed down for one basket and put back a teammate's miss to lower the difference to 43-27. An acrobatic tip-in by Arapovic and another by Bilan were sandwiched around a jumper by Kinsey. But when Bilan scored again with ease, the lead was back up to 20 points, and Pullen did the honors of blasting his fourth three-pointer on the halftime buzzer for a 52-31 difference at the break.
Third quarter: Zvezda can't rally
Kinsey opened the second-half scoring from the lane. White connected again with Zoric for an easy Cedevita basket. Kinsey danced through the defense to get another one for the visitors, but his foul let Babic convert a three-point play at the other end to make it 57-35. Zirbes put back a miss for Zvezda but Babic matched those points at the foul line. Zoric hit a turnaround jumper as Cedevita took another high lead, 24 points, at 61-37. Zirbes tried to spark the visitors, but Zoric made a huge block before downing 2 free throws to which Babic added a pair of his own. Stimac returned to convert a three-point play in side, but Arapovic answered with a jumper. Kinsey did the same for Zvezda before Bilan's free throw finished the third-quarter 68-45.
Fourth Quarter: Cedevita takes it to the finish
Gordic made a nice assist Karlo Zganec for another high lead to open the final quarter. Nikola Rebic and Kinsey answered back for Zvezda, but with their big edge, the hosts were content to trade baskets, and Gordic obliged. Pullen returned with a strong three-point play. Stimac and Rebic kept up the fight for Zvezda, but only when Dangubic broke free for a fastbreak layup could the visitors get the difference under 20 points again, 75-56, and by that time, there were only 4 minutes left. Pullen had another three-point play in him for an 81-56 lead, more than enough for Cedevita to end its solid season on a high note while Zvezda went home to regroup for its playoff series starting Monday on the road against CSKA Moscow.
Friday, April 8, 2016