The Group A race tightened considerably with two weeks to go as Maroussi Costa Coffee stopped visiting ASK Riga 82-77 in Athens on Tuesday. Both teams are now 2-2 and tied for second place, but due to Riga's tie-break advantage between them, Maroussi will have to either win more games of the last two or force a three-way tie. After Riga's last of several attempted rallies got the guests within 77-75, Bill Keys made 4 of 4 free throws down the stretch to keep Maroussi's home streak safe. Pat Calathes came off the bench to lead the winners with 16 points, including 6 for 6 two-point shooting. Kostas Charalampidis added 15 points and Giorgos Diamantopoulos 12 for the winners, while Dimitrios Mavroeidis ruled with 15 rebounds and Keys dished 7 assists. For Riga, big man Bruno Sundov posted another double-double of 22 points, 11 rebounds, while Aigars Vitols follwed with 19 points.
Both teams started in low gear and as a result the score was knotted at 1-2 after 3 minutes. Eventually, Maroussi big man Loukas Mavrokefalides scored off an offensive rebound, only to be bettered by Vitols, who nailed a triple to put Riga in front, 3-5. Charalampidis responded with a three-pointer and a layup in transition for an 8-5 lead, but Vitols unleashed another triple to cap a 2-7 run and give the guests a 10-12 advantage. His teammates were not so effective from the arc, however. They were a combined 0-for-7 on triples, and as a result, Maroussi soon rallied back: Calathes came off the bench to hit a scoring jumper and a triple against the zone defense to build a 21-14 edge for the hosts at the end of the first quarter. Vitols did not lose heart and buried 2 more triples to put Riga within 25-24 early in the second quarter. But neither did Maroussi panic, but rather kept composure at both ends of the floor. A few possessions later, Diamantopoulos contributed a three-pointer and a freethrow to stretch the lead to 33-26. Sundov -so far an underachiever by his own high standards- scored a basket, but Keys released a three-point bomb to make it 36-28. Then, with reserve players Diamantopoulos and Calathes as its go-to-guys, Maroussi galloped to a 44-36 margin at halftime.
With Sundov still struggling, Riga was scrambling to get the scoreboard rolling. Maroussi took advantage of its opponent's three-minute dry spell and forged a 48-36 gap. Nonetheless, Riga's revival from the arc, as Uvis Helmanis and Vitols hit back-to-back triples, got the guests to within 48-42. Jarod Stevenson found an answer against Riga's zone defense and then Mavrokefalides made a jumper good for a 53-44 advantage. Helmanis beat the buzzer with a contested triple, but Charalampidis upped the ante with a three-pointer of his own and a layup as Maroussi raced to a 58-47 lead. The hosts cooled off a bit offensively though, so Dairis Bertans stepped up to put Riga close on Maroussi's heels, 60-55, with one period left. Calathes came up big in the fourth quarter, as he first found Andreas Glyniadakis and then converted a three-point play, however Raitis Grafs brought the guests to within 66-62. Diamantopoulos responded with a smooth lob-shot, but Andrius Mazutis fired in a triple and rejuvenated Sundov scored inside the paint to cut the lead to 70-67. Out of a Maroussi timeout, Grafs made it a one-point game before the hosts picked up their defensive intensity and went on a decisive a 7-2 spurt. Sundov grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a pair of free-throws, then Stevenson missed a triple and Valters's trip to the charity line made it 77-75. Down the stretch, Keys made 4 of 4 free throws to keep Maroussi ahead 81-77 with 27 seconds left and in the subsequent possession Vitols turned the ball over as the hosts remained undefeated at home.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Epameinondas Tsakalos, Athens