Adecco Asvel moved up from the basement of Group C to join a crowd of Top 16 hopefuls as it downed visiting Olympiacos 85-74 on Thursday night to end a seven-game losing streak. The victory boosted the French champions to 4-8, tied with Partizan for seventh place in a race for three remaining Top 16 berths in the group. Olympiacos remains one place above at 5-7, but now it is tied with Idea Slask. With two regular season games remaining, only two victories separate Asvel from the third-place tie betwee Virtus and Real Madrid (both 6-8). Asvel playing a classic inside-first game that worked well enough to create space outside for its shooters as Olympiacos tried to adjust. Harold Mrazek was the big gun for the winners with 20 points, most of them on his 6-for-8 three-point shooting. Asvel hit 11 of 18 attempts from deep on the night, but it also won the scoring war in the paint, 38-22. Stevin Smith added 16 points for the winners, Robert Guylas 15 and Vasco Evtimov 14. Olympiacos had it tougher after its main contributor, DeMarco Johnson, left the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Later, sharpshooter Nenad Markovic followed him to the infirmary. In their absences, Maurice Evans led the Reds with 19 points, Milan Tomic added 15 and Ignacio De Miguel pitched in 10.
With neither Davor Marcelic nor Yann Bonato in the starting lineup, Asvel coach Philippe Herve's tactic was obviously to push inside. There, Gulyas scored 7 points as Asvel raced ahead 12-5 and forced the first Olympiacos timeout after 5 minutes. Olympiacos now closed the lane, but Asvel's shooters merely reacted with back-to-back three-pointers that swelled the lead to 18-5. Olympiacos tried to adapt with a zone but now Smith took fire, scoring 8 points in the last 3 minutes of the quarter, including 2 more three-pointers in succession. Asvel finished the quarter an almost perfect 5 for 6 from downtown and a solid 28-16 edge to show for it.
The troubles got worse for Olympiacos when Johnson twisted his ankle early in the second quarter. But the visitors didn't get discouraged: quite the contrary. Their defense became tougher, holding Asvel to 7 points over 6 minutes. Now the Reds got their accurancy back, too, hitting 9 of 15 shots in the quarter as Evans put up 11 points himself. The upshot was a 0-10 run that vaulted Olympiacos within striking range of the lead at 35-31. Olympiacos suffered another injury now, to shooter Nenad Markovic, but continued to reduced the gap step-by-step. Evtimov finally moved forward to stop the haemorrhage for Asvel with 6 points that allowed the hosts to preserve a nine-point advantage, 46-37, at the half.
After the break it seemed obvious that neither Markovic nor Johnson would come back on the court, so Subotic decided to open his bench. Recently-signed center Kenny Miller joined the cause, but the inside continued to prove a problem for the guests. With Johnson out and De Miguel not that much in the game, not even the Olympiacos zone seemed to resist Asvell's inside attack. Evtimov and Gulays got in close again and again and finally accounted for 12 of their team's 24 points in the quarter. On the other side of the court, Evans seemed to be alone in scoring for Olympiacos and even then he had to force some plays. It all added up to a 15-point lead for Asvel, 70-55, after 30 minutes.
As any great team, Olympiacos refused to die without fighting, but consecutives fifth fouls that benched Evans and Juan Antonio Morales early in the fourth quarter obligated Subotic to reopen his bench. With 5:41 to go, DeMiguel was the only Olympiacos big man playing. Still, the margin was just 12 points, so Herve called back Smith to give his team some rhythm back. Nonetheless, Asvel was forced to call a time out with 3 minutes to go and the lead sitting at 11 points, 79-68. Olympiacos continued to push and a little press allowed some steals. But Mrazek landed two killer threes from behind the arc, and those gave Asvel enough fresh air to finish the victory and even do so by more points than it had lost to Olympiacos in Athens, just in case a tie down the road needs to be broken.
Thursday, January 30, 2003
Yvan Tabellion, Villeurbanne