Olympiakos did what it had to do beating AEK, 65-75, in the final Greek battle of the Top 16 but unfortunately, rival Panathinaikos could not comply. The Greens' win over Olimpija knocked the Reds out of the Final Four despite its impressive performance tonight on the road. Olympiakos ends its Euroleague Top 16 campaign at 4-2, just one game back from group leading Panathinaikos, while AEK drops to 2-4, one spot ahead of Olimpija. Alphonso Ford repeated his performance as leading scorer with 24 points, while James Forrest put up 11, and Milan Tomic, Alexis Savrosenko, Stephane Risacher and Theodoros Papaloukas all had 8. Andrew Betts and Nikos Hatzis led AEK with 15 each while Chris Carra nd J.R. Holden had disappointing nights combining for just 15 points between the two of them.
The game started with a surprise on the AEK side. 20-year old forward Giorgos Tsiaras found a spot in the starting five in place of Demos Ntikoudis who was suffering from back pains, but few noticed as there were only 200 people in OAKA watching the game. Olympiakos started furiously and in the 5th minute already had taken a 4-13 lead with 6 of those points by Alfonso Ford, 3 by Nikos Boudouris, and 2 by Forest and Rizase. Ford scored again from the base line (8 points) and Carr responded with a big three for 8-15 in the 6th minute. On the other side, Holden had already missed 3 free throws and Tsiaras another two. But then Giorgos Tsiaras made up for his mistakes at the line with a big play, followed by Carr with a great dunk which cut the lead to just two points. Carr hit again to tie the game at 15-15, and AEK kept on its 12-0 run and took the lead for the first time at 17-15. J.R. Holden then nailed a three-pointer from the corner which gave AEK a 3-point lead which they would hold until the qaurter ended at 23-20.
The first three and a half minutes of the second quarter saw scoreless basketball from both sides. Finally Andrew Betts broke the draught with two free throws and increased AEK lead to 25-20. Both teams were playing sloppily as Olympiakos already had committed 4 turnovers just in the second period alone. AEK had its own problems and failed to take advantage of the Reds' miscues as Nikos Xatzis' basket made it 27-20 AEK, with just 4 combined points scored midway through the period. Alfonso Ford who had gotten off to a hot start with 8 points in the first five minutes cooled off considerably going scoreless over the next 10. But finally Ford snapped out of it and got back on the board with a free throw, and then a Forest jump shot brought Olympiakos back in the game at 27-24. Ford was just beginning to warm up again as another bucket cut the lead to one point 27-26. The tempo slowed down considerably in the second period compared to that of the first which turned it into a very hypnotic basketball game, without any fantasy, and too many turnovers. J.R.Holden was unable to get his team into the right rhythm, while on the other side, Olympiakos revolved their entire offense around Ford who ended the half with 13 points. Two free throws from Spiros Panteliadis right before the break put AEK ahead 32-28, and the teams entered the locker rooms with the home teaming hanging on at 33-29.
Tsiaras started the third quarter for AEK but it was Zevrosenko's first points of the game that opened the scoring of the second half. Andrew Betts responded with two free throws and then Ford picked up right where he left off before the half. Carr however was not having a good night for AEK and his dissapointing performance did little to jump start his team. Olympiakos used great defense to fight back and suddenly with a 1-10 run in just two and a half minutes in the third quarter took the lead at 41-36. Holden joined Carr in the bad performance category as Olympiakos increased its lead, 43-36. Kakiouzis made his first basket in the 25th minute and then a three-pointer by Nikos Chatzis helped AEK cut the lead 40-43. Ford responded but another big three by Chatzis brought it within two at 43-45. Olympiakos struck back and a three by Papaloukas and a baseline jumper by Ford brought Olympiakos back on top at 43-50. Then it became Zevrosenko¿s time to score, as Olympiakos went on a run 6-0 run. Jim Bilba then hits a three for 46-52 but Rizase responds with a three of his own for 46-55. The three-point competition continued as Nikos Chatzis again hit from downtown but the last word belonged to Milan Tomic with an amazing buzzer beater, also from behind the arc, that was the seventh three-pointer made by both teams in the last 4 minutes of the third quarter!
Olympiakos for the first time in the game increased its lead to 11, with a baby hook by Milan Tomic for 49-60, for the Red team. AEK used a zone defense as a last attempt to come back. But another 0-4 run and Olympiakos was ahead 14 points in the 32nd minute. Ford stayed hot scoring on a highlight-reel alley oop pass from Tomic as Olympiakos dominated in the paint with consecutive offensive rebounds. Panteliadis nailed another three which cut the Reds' lead back to 11, 66-55, but the unstoppable Alfonso Ford hit another jumper. Tomic then jumped in hitting a big three as Olympiakos led 71-57, with four minutes left to play. Chatzis converted a three-point play for 14 points as AEK's leading scorer. Betts also got his 14 points after a turnaround jumper. But Olympiakos was the better team tonight. The game ended with an easy victory for Olympiakos 65-75, but the only thing that mattered was that both the Reds and AEK are out of the Final Four.
Thursday, April 18, 2002
Vangelis Arnaotoglou, Greece