Real Madrid bought its ticket to the Top 16 from Group A with a commanding 75-83 road win over Olympiacos in Athens on Thursday. The victory improves Madrid's record to 7-4, four victories more than Group A's sixth-place team, Adecco Estudiantes, has with three games to go. Thus, Madrid became the fourth team from Group A to make it to the next round. It wasn't easy. A game of runs saw Madrid's 13-point lead entering the fourth quarter shrink to 3 points in the final minute before Louis Bullock sealed the victory and the qualification from the free throw line. Bullock was the best scorer for the winners with 18 points. Antonio Bueno added 13, Pat Burke nailed 12 and Elmer Bennett 10. For Olympiacos, Roger Mason exploded in the last quarter for 10 points, totalling 15 in the game, and Boris Gorenc hit 10. The record of Olympiacos fell to 2-9.
From the beginning of the game at Peace and Friendship Stadium, Madrid tried to make clear who was boss. The visitors surprised the Reds with an early 0-5 run and then led the game 6-11 midway through the first quarter getting important points from Bullock. Gorenc and Marque Perry pushed Olympiacos closer, to within 10-13, but again Madrid had the answers and especially a great balance between the inside and outside game. Great ball circulation and execution from Bullock and Bennett helped Madrid double the score of Olympiacos, 10-20, on the way to a convincing 14-25 lead after 10 minutes.
The same scenario was repeated in the second quarter. Madrid got inside power from Burke, despite he and another former Panathinaikos player, Antonis Fotsis, receiving the noisiest boos from the crowd. Olympiacos cut the deficit to 21-31 thanks to Ivan Zoroski, but again Madrid escaped to a 21-35 advantage due to a layup by Fotsis. The only offensive solution now for Olympiacos was center Robert Gulyas, who scored 8 of his 12 points in the second quarter. But Madrid had Alberto Herreros on a perfect shooting night, as the veteran's pair of three-pointers gave his team a 29-43 lead at halftime.
Bullock and Bueno were really effective as the third quarter started with Madrid silencing the crowd on its way toa 30-50 lead. The teams exchanged points for awhile, but after 26 minutes, Madrid led by 35-57 lead and maybe thought that the game was in hand. Well, veteran guard Angelos Koronios had a different opinion, and made 2 three-pointers and a free throw to help Olympiacos wake up and finish the third period with only 13 points to cover in the forth quarter, 49-62.
Olympiacos pushed harder still to open the final quarter, and used 9 unanswered points to complete a crazy 25-3 run that cut the difference all the way down to 4 points, 58-62. Madrid knew it needed to react. With important baskets by Burke and great offensive help from Moustapha Sonko, Madrid made its own 0-10 run to restore the lead at 58-72. But Olympiacos was not dead. Mason was impressive now, making three-pointers and a pair of fastbreaks. Olympiacos threatened a final time, coming as close as 71-74, but that was it. Madrid proved mentally strong from the free throw line at the end, finishing off Olypiacos at the same time that it opened its own path into the Top 16.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens