Keep the champagne on ice, because the Euroleague Finals are going to Game 5! Tau Ceramica, the giant-killers of the postseason, remain alive and kicking after blowing by Kinder Bologna 96-79 in Game 4 on Thursday to even this best-of-five series at 2-2. Fired up by their 9,500 fans at Fernando Buesa Arena, Tau showed the same character and resourcefulness that got them this far, and came up with answers for everything Kinder threw at them. Elmer Bennett (19 points, 8 assists) directed the orchestra, but Victor Alexander (18 points) and Mindaugas Timinskas (18 points) came up with huge games on offense as Tau's point total soared as if Kinder's famous defense didn't exist. Besides helping Tau's exterior game recover completely, Timinskas also threw down the dunk of the season in the second quarter. It was that kind of night for Tau. As such, the heroes of Vitoria, Spain extended the Euroleague Finals to the very limit, Game 5 next Thursday, May 10, in Bologna, Italy. You wanted spectacular basketball? Well, you've got it like never before in the Euroleague Finals.
For Kinder, Game 4 was a comedown despite the best performance yet by center Rashard Griffith, who finished with a team-high 18 points and 6 rebounds while shooting 9 for 11 from the field (82 percent). Game 3 hero Emanuel Ginobili and Alessandro Abbio added 15 each for Kinder, but the team's problems on defense were such that coach Ettore Messina finally put on a zone for most of the second half. It slowed the rhythm that Bennett had forced, but ultimately it did not stop Tau, whose shooters rediscovered their range and hit 9 of 18 three-pointers.
The stars came to with their game faces on from the opening tipoff. The first quarter offered a basketball show second to none no matter where on the court you looked. For Tau, Bennett drove everywhere in high gear, dished to a trio of three-point shooters - Laurent Foirest, Mindaugas Timinskas and Saulius Stombergas - whose accuracy in the opening minutes already outdid Tau's 1-for-14 three-point performance in Game 3. Victor Alexander and Fabricio Oberto had their hands full underneath, however, where Rashard Griffith made all five of his shots. Helping him was Ginobili, with a pair of his trademark acrobatic drives, but together they could only manage to hold Tau to a 10-10 tie before the hometeam started feeling real good. The three-pointers by Timinskas and Stombergas were followed by two baseline jumpers from Alexander, a jumper by Bennett and two free throws by Alexander pushed Tau ahead by 24-17 after a quarter.
The best was yet to come for the home fans as Tau locked down Kinder and opened the second quarter with a 9-0 run. Alexander had the first two baskets, Stombergas a fastbreak, and Timinskas drilled his second three-pointer. The lead hit 33-17 before Kinder could react with its first basket in more than four minutes, a pull-up jumper by Ginobili. Then David Anderson hit from the baseline, Antoine Rigaudeau made one from the lane, Griffith dunked and Rigaudeau popped Kinder's first three-pointer from the corner. Like that, the lead was down to 35-28, and no one of the 9,500 fans at Fernando Buesa Arena needed to be reminded of how lethal Kinder can be no matter what the scoreboard might say. But as quickly as Kinder bit, Tau bit back in a 9-3 closing run that featured almost without doubt the best individual play of the whole European season.
Timinskas, a defender first and outside shooter second, suddenly got a head of steam on a drive down the lane, and the result was an absolutely explosive dunk detonated on the head of Andersen. The dunk brought the entire arena to its feet, including the 500 or so Kinder fans who had to witness it. Timinskis ended up standing over Anderson, who was called for a foul, and making the free throw. As the foul shot fell in, Griffith was called for fouling Scola, who made one free throw for a four-point possession that gave Tau a 43-31 halftime lead. By that point, Alexander had 12 points and Timinskas 11 to offset 14 by Griffith. What's more, Tau played the whole half with just 2 turnovers, 12 fewer than it had in Game 3. Whether or not Kinder was the same team as in Game 3 was arguable, but Tau certainly was not. It was clear already that Dusko Ivanovic's troops were not about to give an inch more to Kinder.
The magic continued for Tau after halftime with an 8-0 run that drove up that lead to 51-31. It took a Ginobili three-pointer to stop the bleeding for Kinder, who also went into a zone defense to slow Tau. Three minutes and a 9-2 run later, Kinder was back in it, and when Griffith backed down Alexander for two points, the lead had been cut to single digits, 56-47. But Tau had the answers again this time, as Foirest rained a three-pointer from the corner, Bennett drove for a layup, Luis Scola dunked and Bennett hit another three. The lead was back to more than 15, 66-50, and with yet another three, this one by Stombergas, Tau reached the end of three quarters with a 69-54 lead. Nobody was forgetting Kinder's miraculous comeback from 18 down in the fourth quarter against Paf in the previous round, but with the way Tau was playing, nobody in Vitoria was too worried, either.
Thursday, May 3, 2001
Frank Lawlor, Euroleague.net