Another command peformance in the crucial closing minutes left CSKA Moscow looking stronger than ever after an 81-85 road win at Tau Ceramica in Group C on Wednesday. CSKA passed another test to preserve its undefeated record at 10-0, while dropping Tau to 4-6 and endangering its fifth-place standing. In the final 2 minutes after the last tie, Theodoros Papaloukas and Marcus Brown split 6 of 7 free throws while CSKA's defense did the rest. Brown, Martin Muursepp and J.R. Holden finished with 16 points each and Papaloukas 10 for the winners, who shot 60% on two-pointers and 89.2% at the fol line, making 25 of 28 attempts. CSKA's defense was anchored by Alexei Savrasenko, who pulled 10 rebounds and blocked 6 shots. Tau put four scorers in double figures, led by Arvydas Macijauskas with 17 points. Luis Scola and Kornel David added 15 each and Robert Conley 13.
What was expected to be a balanced and tough game looked that way early, as each side's baskets was answered by the other for a 7-7 tie after 2 minutes. Antonio Granger and Holden powered a 0-7 CSKA run right after that to force Tau's first timeout. Holden kept right on scoring with a three-pointer. Scola came off the bench then and got the hosts back in the game, closing the gap to only 4 points, 15-19, after 7 minutes. Both squads exchanged baskets from that moment to the end the period, at which time CSKA was ahead 23-26.
Holden opened fire in the second quarter with back-to-back layups that extended the lead to 24-30. CSKA used a zone for the first time as intense defense and rebounding by both teams made it impossible to get an easy basket. The scoreboard crawled now, but CSKA kept a short lead, before taking advantage of Tau turnovers to build a good cushion at 28-40. Tau reacted quickly, howeer, thanks to David and Conley, and reduced the deficit to 39-43 after Jose Manuel Calderon scored a basket-plus-free throw with 90 seconds to go in the quarter. Nothing changed in the last minute as Papaloukas and David put the score at 41-45 for halftime, by which time Holden had all his 16 points.
Tau kept pushing after intermission, but it only found the basket from the free throw line, while CSKA based its offensive game on Brown. The pace slowed as the guests widened the gap to 47-55 after 24 minutes. Tau was motivated by an offensive foul called on Calderon to start furious 10-4 rally on inside baskets by Scola, David and Tiago Splitter that made it a 57-59 scoreboard in minute 27. CSKA retained that by looking to Muurseep and Savrasenko, exploiting the fact that Scola was in foul trouble. A flagrant foul called on Dimos Dikoudis in the last minute allowed Tau to get 5 points in a row, including a a buzzer-beating triple by Macijauskas that gave the hosts their first lead, 65-63.
The rally didn't end, either, as Tau started the last quarter with 6 unanswered points to cap a 13-0 run on an amazing put-back by Travis Hansen that put the hosts up 71-63 with 8 minutes left. David Andersen and Granger emerged from a timeout and made 4 points in a row to get CSKA back in the game. The same difference held until Calderon fouled out midway through the quarter. His absence was quickly exploited by CSKA with a 0-7 run behind 5 points from Muursepp that took back the lead at 75-76 with 3 minutes to go. After Muursepp, too, fouled out, Macijauskas hit a corner three-pointer for a 78-78 tie on the scoreboard. Although Conley would make the only other shot from the field in the game, a triple at that, it came after Papaloukas and Brown had already put CSKA ahead and left the defense to finish the job, including Granger's block of another Macijauskas three-point attempt. This was not going to be the night that CSKA's streak ended, either, but Tau now had its own qualification to worry about over the next month.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Natxo Mendaza, Vitoria