CSKA Moscow reached the Euroleague championship game for the first time since 1973 by beating Winterthur FC Barcelona 75-84 in their Euroleague semifinals on Friday night at sold-out Sazka Arena in Prague. CSKA will meet Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv, which earlier defeated Tau Ceramica 85-70, in Sundays final. Theodoros Papaloukas and J.R. Holden led the winners each with 19 points. Papaloukas made 7 of 10 shots coming off the bench while Holden had all his points in the last 23 minutes, helping CSKA to rally and win the game. CSKA ended a string of three semifinals losses in a row by reaching Sundays title in its record fourth consecutive Final Four. The last of CSKAs four titles came in 1971. CSKA coach Ettore Messina has now reached the Euroleague final with three different teams Virtus Bologna, Benetton Treviso and CSKA. Barcelona, the 2003 Euroleague champion, will fight for third place against Tau Ceramica. CSKA trailed 45-34 early in the third quarter but found a go-to guy in Papaloukas, who had 8 points in a 0-13 run which put his team ahead, for the first time of the game. Barcelona managed to tie the game, 63-63, but Holden, Papaloukas and Matjaz Smodis led a 1-9 run which put CSKA in charge for good. Smodis had 17 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double while Trajan Langdon had 13 for CSKA. Shammond Williams led Barcelona with 24 points, Bootsy Thornton had 15 off the bench while Juan Carlos Navarro added 10. In addition to clinching a spot in the final, CSKA advanced to the first annual NBA Europe Live tournament in Cologne, Germany next October.
Both teams started cold as they adjusted their opponents' man-to-man defenses, which featured the same pairings in both ends, highlighted by Shammond Williams against David Vanterpool and Juan Carlos Navarro against J.R. Holden. Williams nailed a six-meter jumper to open the scoring, as CSKA remained scoreless. Big Denis Marconato fired in another long jumper to give Barcelona a 4-0 lead. CSKA had already missed three shots and committed two turnovers when a triple by a red hot Williams forced coach Ettore Messina to call timeout at 7-0. CSKA tried to use longer possessions with better ball movement to find the way to the basket as David Vanterpool took over as the distributor. He found Smodis for his team's first points midway through the opening period, but Navarro bettered that with a bomb from downtown. Theo Papaloukas replaced Vanterpool and immediately contributed with a second-chance basket, while another bench substitute, Tomas Van den Spiegel, hit a pair of free throws to bring CSKA to 10-6. Marconato took over with a dunk-and-foul, but he also picked up his third foul on the ensuing play and was forced to take a rest. More free throws from Van den Spiegel and Trajan Langdon allowed CSKA to remain close at 13-9, before Papaloukas closed the gap with a steal and a coast-to-coast dunk. Navarro canned his second triple and then Papaloukas scored in the low post, but an acrobatic jumper by Williams fixed the score at 20-15 after 10 minutes.
Langdon tried to keep his team in the game with a turnaround jumper, as CSKA improved its defense and started to crash the offensive glass. Bootsy Thornton came on for Williams and quickly found himself in a one-on-one situation against former teammate and longtime friend Vanterpool. Thornton won this battle, scoring in the low post and forcing a CSKA timeout at 22-17. After Van den Spiegel missed a pair from the line, Michalis Kakiouzis beat the 24-second clock with a trademark triple from the left wing and then Gianluca Basile came off a screen to hit another one from downtown to boost Barca's lead to 28-17 after 13 minutes and bring on another CSKA timeout. CSKA looked to turn the game into a physical battle and take advantage of its defensive reputation. Vanterpool made two free throws his first points of the game but a big block from Gregor Fucka allowed Williams to hit a tough jumper, good for a 30-19 Barcelona lead. Thornton added a driving layup before Matjaz Smodis scored three the hard way for CSKA. Holden followed with a three from the corner for his first basket of the game after 17 minutes. Jordi Trias came in and scored a fast break layup and then Williams added free throws to keep Barcelona out of trouble at 36-25. Smodis rescued CSKA with a put-back layup and Langdon hit free throws to bring his team within 36-29. Papaloukas remained hot with a turnaround jumper to cap a six-point spurt that seven Smodis followed Holden's driving layup with a free throw to close the gap to four. Williams missed a jumper at the buzzer as the teams went to the locker rooms at halftime with Barcelona on top 38-34.
Thornton came back to the floor after the break and immediately made free throws to push Barcelona ahead 40-34. Once again CSKA struggled to score in the opening minutes of the half, while a red-hot Thornton scored from downtown to make it a nine-point game. CSKA was even missing open shots and layups, as Panov and Smodis struggled inside. On the other end, Basile fired in a six-meter jumper, which capped a 7-0 Barcelona run. Holden ended CSKA's scoring draught in style, hitting back-to-back triples exactly from the same spot. Papaloukas added a free throw to make it 45-41. Williams stepped up again with a three-pointer, which Navarro followed with a left-handed driving layup for a 50-42 Barcelona lead. A technical foul on Fucka allowed CSKA to get back into the game, as Papaloukas and Smodis combined for 6 quick points to bring their team within two. Papaloukas scored again in transition and then Holden canned a corner three to give CSKA its first lead of the game, 50-53. Barcelona called its second timeout in as many minutes, but free throws by Papaloukas capped a 0-13 CSKA run in which he had 8 points. CSKA had held its opponent scoreless for four minutes until Kakiouzis hit a short jumper, but Vanterpool answered with free throws to keep CSKA ahead 52-57 after three quarters.
The intensity grew in the final period with both teams fighting for a spot in the title game. After almost two minutes without a score, Holden stepped up with a three-pointer to give CSKA its biggest lead so far, 52-60. Basile answered from downtown and Williams made one free throw to keep Barcelona's hopes alive, at 56-60, with seven minutes to go. Marconato capped a 6-0 run with a baseline jumper, but Langdon took over with a catch-and-shoot triple that gave CSKA some air at 58-63. Williams answered from downtown and Thornton added a floater to tie the score at 63-63 at the midway point in the fourth quarter. It didn't last long, however, as Holden followed Van den Spiegel's tip-in with a six-meter jumper during a 0-6 run, which Panov capped with a fast break layup, forcing Barcelona to call timeout at 63-69. Fucka drew a foul and made a free throw, CSKA remained in control as Smodis came through with a three-point play that made it 64-72 with 2:40 to go. Papaloukas darted downcourt for a two-handed slam off of an inbounds pass to seemingly seal the win as it put CSKA up eight in the final 2 minutes. However Barcelona did not surrender. Thornton made free throws and Williams fired in a triple to get Barcelona within striking distance at 72-75. Langdon's free throws with 1:05 to go gave CSKA some space. Fucka missed around the basket, but Barca got a second chance when Papaloukas committed an offensive foul with 31.4 seconds remaining. Thornton missed a three-point attempt, but Fucka grabbed the rebound and drew a foul. He made just 1-of-2 free throws and Smodis grabbed the offensive rebound and sealed the win with foul shots, enough for CSKA to return to the Euroleague final for the first time in 33 years.
Friday, April 28, 2006