CSKA Moscow booked a spot in its third straight Euroleague Basketball championship game by holding off Tau Ceramica 79-83 in the second semifinal of the 2008 Final Four at the Community of Madrid Sports Palace on Friday in the Spanish capital. Ramunas Siskauskas iced the game with a pair of free throws with 6.5 seconds left after Tau tried to rally late. Siskauskas finished with 16 points as one of five CSKA scorers in double figures. In Sunday’s final, CSKA will look for its second title in three years and sixth overall, which would rank it second all-time behind only Real Madrid. In the final, CSKA will face the team it defeated in the 2006 title game in Prague, Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv, which beat Montepaschi Siena 85-92 earlier Friday. Tau led at halftime and was up early in the fourth quarter, but Theo Papaloukas scored twice in a 0-10 CSKA charge that turned the game around. CSKA held on until the final minute, when some missed free throws from Papaloukas and triples from Pablo Prigioni and Igor Rakocevic carried Tau to within 2 with less than 10 seconds remaining. However Siskauskas was up to the task with the game on the line, setting up a classic Euroleague final between the two biggest superpowers of the decade. David Andersen missed only one shot on his way to 16 points as well for CSKA, while J.R. Holden finished with 15, Matjaz Smodis added 14 and Papaloukas 10. Rakocevic paced Tau with 19, Tiago Splitter and Zoran Planinic scored 17 points apiece and Pete Mickeal had 11 in defeat.
Tau Ceramica head coach Neven Spahija surprised everyone by starting Will McDonald to go against Andersen, who was first to score on his trademark turnaround jumper. Rakocevic and Smodis soon traded jumpers for a 2-4 CSKA lead. Planinic took over with a driving basket, but Siskauskas quickly answered in the same way. McDonald provided a highlight with a wild one-handed dunk and Rakocevic added an outstanding three-point play to give Tau its first lead at 9-6. CSKA took a timeout, after which Siskauskas stepped up with a driving layup and soon added a three-pointer to restore a 9-11 lead. Planinic tied the game with free throws, but Marcus Goree gave CSKA an 11-12 just as Papaloukas came off the bench. Splitter had a nice move in the low post, which Andersen erased with a floating layup. Goree muscled his way for another bucket and Papaloukas added free throws as the CSKA lead stretched to 13-18. Mickeal flew in for a baseline slam that charged the Tau fans and Mirza Teletovic tied the game with a triple. Smodis put CSKA back on top only for Mickeal’s jumper to knot it at 20-20 at the end of the opening period.
After a scoreless minute, Splitter got the second period going with a baby hook and then took a dish from Prigioni and added another score in the paint, causing CSKA to take a timeout. Tomas Van den Spiegel came in to fortify CSKA’s defense and Smodis drove for a basket. Trajan Langdon and Siskauskas each picked up their third fouls in rapid succession and went to the bench and free throws from Splitter and Planinic made it 27-22. A Rakocevic triple in transition soon had Tau up 6. And with Smodis serving as the only CSKA weapon on offense at this point, Tau’s big men began to focus on him even more. Despite the momentum, poor free-throw shooting by Tau prevented the club from building a formidable lead. Holden stepped up with a big three against Tau’s zone only to see Planinic match him at the other end. Holden cut away at the lead, but after a Tau timeout, baskets from McDonald and Splitter put their team ahead by 8. Holden buried another three and Splitter added a free throw to make it 39-33 at halftime.
Andersen scored inside twice as the second half got underway, however baskets by Rakocevic and Planinic kept Tau in control. Holden fired CSKA up with a triple and a steal from Rakocevic before Langdon tied the game at 43-43 with his first three of the night, resulting in a Tau timeout. CSKA regained the lead on Smodis free throws, but McDonald and Mickeal kept Tau close. Andersen stepped outside to make it 48-52 only for Planinic to drive Tau back within 2. Langdon picked up his fourth foul and found himself back on the bench again as Splitter tied the game at the other end. A Mickeal floater put Tau back on top. Siskauskas hit free throws and McDonald scored in the paint as the lead started to sway from side to side. Papaloukas’s free throws allowed CSKA to lead 56-57 heading into the fourth period.
Prigioni was called for an unsportsmanlike foul for grabbing Holden from behind on a fast break early in the fourth quarter. Despite Holden's free throws, Rakocevic tied the game with a three-pointer Tau went on top in Splitter free throws, which were the result of Siskauskas’s fourth foul. Holden tied things with an acrobatic shot and Andersen made it 61-63 with a turn-around jumper. Splitter was next to 4 fouls, his coming on the offensive end. Meanwhile Langdon sank free throws and Papaloukas scored in transition as CSKA went up 6. After a Tau timeout, CSKA defense pressured Tau and a Mickeal miss turned into a Papaloukas slam that capped a 0-10 run. McDonald scored inside, but Andersen matched that with a jumper. A Mickeal triple made it 66-71, however Langdon free throws kept CSKA in control. An Andersen jumper over Teletovic put CSKA up 9 with two-and-a-half minutes to go. Splitter made 2 from the line, but an Andersen follow slam was like a dagger to the Tau fans’ last hopes. After 2 Planinic free throws, he stole the ball and set Prigioni up for a triple that brought Tau back to life. Papaloukas made only 1 free throw and Rakocevic cut the gap to 76-80 with less than 30 seconds to go. Papaloukas again made only one from the line and a wild sequence resulted in a Rakocevic three to get within 2, but Siskauskas drew a foul and iced the game with a pair of free throws with 6.5 seconds left.
Friday, May 2, 2008