A couple Slovenian teenagers came very close on Thursday night to doing what 30 full-grown teams before theirs could not: defeat Kinder Bologna. The thrilling upset attempt staged by Union Olimpija was stopped, however, when it met with an Emanuel Ginobili three-pointer from the corner in the next-to-last possession of overtime, which was good for a high-pressure 80-79 Kinder victory. Ginobili's tracer through the net erased another that 19-year-old Sani Becirovic had made to put Olimpija ahead just seconds earlier. Becirovic and his teammates had one more possession and two more shots to win it, but they couldn't get a decent shot off against Kinder's famed defense. That inspirational shot by Ginobili stood as the game-winner and ran Kinder's winning streak to 31 games. It left a few heartbroken Slovenian kids prostrate on the court in Bologna, but after the scare they put into the top team in Europe, who knowns what'll happen come Game 2 in Ljubljana.
It was obvious from early in the game that Olimpija, led by Becirovic, point guard Beno Udrih, 18, and swingman Jiri Welsch, 20, was not going to be intimidated. Olimjpija got over whatever early nerves it had and a 6-0 deficit to take a 14-16 lead in the first quarter on eight straight points divided between Udrih and center Emilio Kovacic. But Kinder finished the quarter off with eight unanswered points capped by David Andersen's tip-in to lead 22-16. But again, Olimpija wouldn't let Kinder run away, after an exchange of baskets early in the second quarter, Udrih and Becirovic popped off screens to nail three-pointers, and all the sudden Olimpija was ahead again 31-33. But just at it has closed the first quarter, Kinder closed the second with a 6-0 run that made got the lead back to 37-33 at halftime.
A four-point lead is semi-comfortable for most teams at home during the playoffs, but losing two leads in 20 minutes is hardly normal for Kinder. And when Jiri Welsh opened the third quarter with a steal, fastbreak dunk and foul shot, one thing was clear: Olimpija wasn't about to fade away. A quick five-point response by Kinder got a six-point one from Olimpija, another Kovacic hook shot inside and a four-point play by Becirovic, to tie it again at 42-42. The battle was joined. It didn't matter at all when, through the early fourth quarter, Kinder build a lead of 64-56, because here came Udrih and Becirovic to spearhead an 8-0 run that gave Olimpija a 64-65 lead with two minutes to go. Kovacic (14 points, 14 rebounds) made one of two free-throws as the lead hit 66-68, but again it was Ginobili, this time on a drive, who saved Kinder and sent the game to overtime.
As they had been doing most of the game, the teams went basket for basket through the first four minutes of overtime, with neither leading by more than three points. But when Becirovic stepped up and nailed his three-pointer from 7 meters with barely a minute left, Olimpija was up 77-79 and looking to stay there. Not so fast, said Ginobili. Marko Jaric drove the lane and spotted his Argentinian teammate in the corner. Ginobili pulled the trigger and hit nothing but net. Kinder had done what Kinder does best. It had won.
Thursday, February 22, 2001