Tau Ceramica took a crucial step towards a Quarterfinal Playoffs qualification in Group E by thrashing Aris TT Bank 69-87 in Thessaloniki, Greece on Thursday. Tau now leads Group E with a perfect 3-0 record and, along with Montepaschi Siena in Group D, is one of just two undefeated teams halfway through the Top 16. Aris, meanwhile, dropped to 0-3 and needs a mejor turnaround to keep its playoff options alive. Sergi Vidal and Tiago Splitter paced the winners each with 16 points. Will McDonald barely missed a double-double with 14 points and 9 rebounds while Mirza Teletovic added 10 points for Tau. Bracey Wright had 24 points for Aris, Jeremiah Massey added 12 and 8 rebounds while Darius Washington got 10 for the hosts. A three-point play by Splitter gave Tau a 14-18 edge after 10 minutes. Tau improved its defense, while a 2-15 run that Gabe Mouneke capped with a triple broke the game open, 18-33, midway through the second quarter. Tau boosted its margin to 27-45 at halftime and kept a safe lead all the way until the final buzzer.
Both teams started the game in low gear, failing to find their offensive rhythm. Finally, Vidal found McDonald for a one-handed dunk that got the scoreboard rolling after 2 minutes. Aris responded with a reverse layup from Massey. He was bettered by Planinic, who scored first on the break and then from the arc to give the guests a 5-7 lead. While Aris kept struggling offensively, scoring mostly free throws, McDonald was a cut above his opponents in the paint and contributed 4 points and one assist to keep Tau ahead, 11-13. Wright loaded his pistol and knocked down his second consecutive triple to give the yellow hordes in the stands a reason to erupt. However, Tiago Splitter came from the bench to convert a three-point play and help Tau burst ahead 14-18 after 10 minutes of play.
Massey opened the second quarter with a basket, but Aris was unable to turn the tide in its favor. With the score at 16-19, the Aris bench was given a technical foul and Tau used a 0-8 run in which Vidal scored 6 points to break the game open. Darius Washington cut the lead to 18-27, yet Tau was in total control of the match now. Simas Jasaitis and Gabe Muoneke caught fire and knocked down a barrage of three-pointers, as the guests' lead soared to 19-36. Aris was lackluster at both ends of the floor and neither a Dimitris Tsaldaris triple nor Wright's attempts could rejuvenate the hosts. A three-pointer by Tau floor general Pablo Prigioni widened the gap to 26-43. It was a clear indication of Tau's first-half domination, as the guests headed to the locker room with a resounding 27-45 halftime lead.
Tau launched the second half in style, with McDonald extending the advantage to the 20-point region. Wright provided a much needed spark with consecutive points from the free-throw line, but Tau was too good to let its opponents ruin its night. Soon, back-to-back triples by Teletovic pushed the guests' margin to 35-53. It was obvious at this point that unless the hosts could provide a much stronger defensive effort, they would not come back. This did not happen though. Reyshawn Terry, Massey, Wright and Washington carried Aris offensively, contributing the team's next 13 points, however on the other end Tau kept scoring at will. As a result, with Planinic and Prigioni running the show - they already had dished a total of 10 assists between them, six more than the whole Aris team - the guests breezed to a 48-66 lead with one quarter remaining.
Nothing changed dramatically in the fourth quarter, as Tau found a new go-to guy in Splitter, who produced in the paint and allowed the guests to remain in charge. A pair of free throws by Vladimer Boisa trimmed the lead to 54-70, yet Splitter proved downright dominant, combining physical superiority with great skills. First he found Vidal in what was a perfect execution of the so-called triangle offense, then he scored a basket and finally added one more assist to his stat sheet, as Group E leader Tau galloped to an easy 69-87 away win.
Thursday, February 28, 2008