Union Olimpija forced the only Game 3 of the first round of the Euroleague playoffs on Thursday by pulling away to a 85-77 victory at home in Slovenia against PAOK of Greece and knotting their series at 1-1. The rubber match will be played next Wednesday in Thessaloniki, Greece, with the winner going on to face top-seeded Kinder Bologna in the quarterfinals. The key to the victory was Olimpija finding someone to put the breaks on POAK scoring machine Panagiotis Liadelis, who scored 36 points in Game 1 and had 16 at halftime in Game 2. But that's when Jiri Welsch took up the challenge, and in the second half, he held Liadelis to 8 points in the second half while boosting his own total to 15, including five points that started putting the game away for Olimpija late in the third quarter.
Sani Becirovic ended up leading Olimpija in scoring with 16 points, and center Primoz Brezec added 15 points plus 9 rebounds. Giorgos Sigalas followed Liadelis's total of 24 with 14 of his own for PAOK, and Jorge Racca chipped in 12. The supposed rebonding trouble PAOK could have suffered didn't materialize as Valeri Daineko pulled down 11 for the visitors.
Ties of 18-18 after one quarter and 43-43 at the half attest to how close the game was from the get-go, despite five three-pointers by the home team in the first 11 minutes. Olimpija seized the widest lead for either team midway through the second quarter, 33-26, but a timeout on the part of PAOK found the solution. Veteran Giorgos Sigalas simply scored six stright points to pull his team with 36-34. They would end up tied, with the only difference being that Olimpija already had one player disqualified, forward Stipe Modric, who was leading his team with 9 points. Stipe was called for his fourth with two minutes left in the half and then received a technical foul for complaining that sent him off. He had fouled out in 12 minutes of play at Game 1 in Thessaloniki, too.
Meanwhile, PAOK's leading scorer was as right as rain. Liadelis had 16 points at the half and there was no sign of anyone stopping him soon. But PAOK, missing top rebounder Giannis Giannoulis to a back injury, started to have its own foul trouble. When new center Anthony Avent sat with his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, the game was still just a three-point difference, 50-47, for Olimpija. From that point, Jiri Welsch gave Olimpija a boost, scoring five points as his team went up 59-51, its biggest lead all game. And it was Welsch, as he raised his own total to 15 points last in the fourth quarter, who helped Olimpija sustain that lead.
Thursday, February 8, 2001