FC Barcelona is the 2002-03 Euroleague champion!
A city that waited decades for this moment erupted in celebration on Sunday night as FC Barcelona seized the Euroleague 2002-03 crown at home with a brilliant 76-65 victory over Benetton Treviso. Almost 20 years after the first of five previous losing attempts in the final game, Barcelona got it right Sunday, taking over in the second quarter and slapping down Benetton's only solid comeback attempt in the third. Once againd, Dejan Bodiroga was voted MVP for leading the champions with 20 points. A trio of three-pointers midway through the final quarter - from Sarunas Jasikevicius, Juan Carlos Navarro and Bodiroga - broke open a three-point game to give Barca an 11-point lead with 90 seconds left. Those seconds were enjoyed with euphoria by the Barca fans who had lived through so many disappointments in the final game before. Tonight, at last, was their night. The ghosts are gone for good. Barcelona is Europe's best.
Barcelona did it all, shooting well throughout the game, defending so well as to hold Benetton to 9 points in the pivotal second quarter, and absolutely dominating in rebounds, 37-27 at game's end. It was a classic team effort. Gregor Fucka added 17 points despite foul trouble. Rodrigo De la Fuente scored 11 and had 8 rebounds. Patrick Femerling came off the bench for 9 points. Benetton had trouble shooting all night, making only 4 of 25 three-pointers and finding Barca's front wall every time it drove inside. Tyus Edney had 16 points to lead Benetton. Massimo Bulleri added 11 and Denis Marconato 10.
Let the record show that Gregor Fucka dropped a nifty left hook to start the game and send the crowd into a frenzy. He also drew the game's first foul at the other end, but on the same possession, Bodiroga and Edney drew their first ones, too. Edney's steal and fastbreak layup would put Benetton on the board at 2-2. Edney tied it again, 4-4, on a jumper, but Fucka calmly dropped a three-pointer. Benetton struck back with a Denis Marconato tip-in and a triple by Langdon to retake a 7-9 lead. But no lead was destined to last long. Roberto Dueñas reversed a layup of a great feed by Fucka, and then Rodrigo De la Fuente finished a break for 11-9. But just as quickly, Jorge Garbajosa put Benetton back ahead with a triple. De la Fuente answered with a spin move and the accompanying foul shot. He then added a corner jumper for a 16-13 Barca lead, but away from the play, Fucka got hit with his second foul and had to sit. De la Fuente splashed in another jumper around two points each by Garbajosa and Manuchar Markoishvili, but it was another three-pointer, by semifinal Massimo Bulleri, that regained the lead. Bodiroga took it right back, however, with consecutive driving backets, but those would be Barca's last points of the quarter. Edney put up the last 3 points of the quarter, enough to leave Benetton with a slim 23-25 advantage on the scoreboard after 10 minutes.
Barcelona made a big move with a big lineup to start the second quarter. Twin towers Roberto Dueñas and Patrick Femerling went to work fast, scoring the first 6 points of the quarter inside. Jasikevicius got 3 free throws and made them all. Then, taking advantage of three fouls to Langdon, Bodiroga warmed up by taking Markoishvili to the lane for consecutive baskets. Amid all that, Benetton had only a single free throw by Edney to show for the first 5 minutes of the quarter. Garbajosa and Nicola were getting open outside shots, but missing, while Langdon still languished on the bench. Benetton's little guys were making forays into the lane, but running into the brickwall frontcourt of Barca. Finally, Nicola broke the ice, with a drive. But De la Fuente and Bodiroga put up 2 points each for the biggest lead of the game thus far, 40-28. Benetton needed to finish the half strong, and did, with Marconato knocking down a baseline jumper, Nicola dropping a shot and Bulleri nailing 2 free throws. As such, Barca's lead was cut to 42-34 at the half.
Benetton made its own big move after halftime. Pittis and Edney got free underneath for a pair of baskets to start it. Masssimo Bulleri matched them himself, again going to the rim, as the Barca lead was cut to 46-42. The run would continue with another shot from Edney, and then a game-tying three-pointer by Trajan Langdon. The scoreboard read 47-47 with less than 3 minutes left, but Barca did not waste them. The big men brought their size to bear once more. Fucka made a tip-in. Femerling to the the line on an offensive rebounds and hit both free throws. Fucka got the next offensive board and put it back, then Femerling went to the line again. Benetton's comeback was erased and the quarter ended with Barca guarding a seven-point lead, 55-48.
Benetton needed another reaction, and again seemed to have it as Marconato and Edney landed a pair of jumpers. It was now 55-52 with 8 minutes left, either team's game still, until Barca's shooters stepped up. Jasikevicius, quiet until then, popped from the three-point arc. After Pittis scored inside, Navarro found himself open for a three: it, too, splashed through the net for a 61-54 lead. A Marconato basket and a pair of free throws by Navarro cancelled each other out as the 5-minute mark passed. Langdon scored on a drive for 63-58, but then Bodiroga decided it was time to take over. Standing on the three-point line, he took a pass from the middle, raised up and nailed it wiith 3:40 to play. He would make 3 of 4 free throws in the next 90 seconds, a personal 6-0 run that started people dancing in the aisles. The scoreboard read 69-58 with 1 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. The outcome was clear, and it meant that, at last, Barcelona could join the ranks of continental champions.
Sunday, May 11, 2003