You wouldn't think of a team dominant enough to boast a 33-game winning streak as a survivor, but that's how Kinder Bologna must feel after advancing to the Euroleague semifinals on Wednesday with a 79-81 final-minute road victory over bloodied but unbowed Union Olimpija in Slovenia. Now, Kinder will be a quite captivated viewer of Thursday night's quarterfinal Game 2 between its eternal crosstown rival, Paf Bologna, and Real Madrid. The winner of that series will be Kinder's semifinal opponent.
Wednesday's single-basket margin was one point higher than that of Kinder's overtime victory in the first game, making this two-game sweep of this best-of-three quarterfinal by the overwhelming favorite the matter of a simple three-point shot. As it turns out, a three-pointer by Emanuel Ginobili was again the key basket, just as in Game 1. He drained this one with 1 minute, 15 seconds to play to give Kinder a 78-75 lead, and then the visitors settled it from the foulline. Indeed, three failed free throws in the final two minutes by Primoz Brezec of Olimpija might have avoided another overtime.
Ettore Messina "We have played great during all the game, but especially in the last minute," Kinder coach Ettore Messina said afterward. "Ginobili was superb tonight. We deserved this victory but it has to be admitted that Olimpija has been a great rival. It has been a difficult and tough game, even for the referees."
The theme of Kinder's victory was apparent in the first few plays, when center Rashard Griffith was called for charging on a back-in to the basket the first time he touched the ball. Kinder responded by feeding him again and again, and two dunks later, the dominance in the paint was pretty much established. Thereafter, whenever things got dicey, Kinder made sure to get the ball down low to Griffith, who despite a sprained ankle earlier in the week, ended up with 25 points on 10 for 13 field goal shooting, including 3 dunks. He also pulled down a floor-high 10 rebounds, double the total of any Olimija player, and stole 4 balls.
The problem for Kinder was that Sani Becirovic of Olimpija, the 19-year-old wonder boy of the Euroleague, was just as effective outside. He ended up with 25 points, too. Griffith had Ginobili (14 points) to balance his scoring, while Becirovic had Petar Arsic (13 points).
"We tried everything that was in our hands," Becirovic said afterwards, "but there was a great rival on the other side, an expert team who took advantage of every single mistake commited by us. I wish them luck, I hope they win the competition."
If anything could be said to be missing for Olimpija in a two-point defeat against the hottest team on the planet, it was Emilio Kovacic, the center who outplayed Griffith in the first game but came up injured just before Game 2.
Zmago Sagadin"There have been two decisive features in the game: the absence of Kovacic and the great defence on Becirovic during the second half," said Olimpija coach Zmago Sagadin. "During the first half he still had some spaces, but in the last two periods, Ginobili and Abbio were on him all the time and he couldn't play at his usual level. It has been a tough game, and one of the best of the season. I'm sure that if we had played five more games against each other, the scores would have always been tight."
Wednesday, February 28, 2001