With the player meant to lead it to the Final Four stuck on the bench, Barcelona on Thursday made a miraculous comeback from 9 points behind with less than 3 minutes to play and to beat visting Olympiacos 80-77 to forge a three-way tie at the top of Group G. Consecutive steals by team captain Rodrigo De la Fuente were the keys to a 14-2 finishing run that had started with Dejan Bodiroga's free throws before he was whistled for his fifth foul. Barcelona's dream of playing the Final Four in its own city seemed impossible at that moment, but Sarunas Jasikevicius kept hope alive with a three-pointer and sustained the rally with 6 of 6 foul-shooting the rest of the way. Bodiroga led the winners with 21 points. Jasikevicius added 18, Juan Carlos Navarro 14 and Roberto Dueñas 12. Olympiacos, which had led since the early minutes of the first quarter, got 21 points from Maurice Evans, 18 from Milan Tomic and 10 from DeMarco Johnson. The result means that Barcelona, Olympiacos and Union Olimpija are all tied at the top of Group G with 2-1 records.
Evans struck first with a triple from the corner for Olympiacos, and soon Tomic copied him as the visitors went ahead 4-6. But Barcelona went inside to Dueñas and Bodiroga for quick points and both the protagonists and the back-and-forth theme was well-established. The game stopped for the first time so that slipper spots on the floor could be dried. Although Nikos Boudouris hit the triple that sent Olympiacos on its way at 10-14, the main man for the Reds was Evans. He went to one baseline and hit a turnaround over Bodiroga, to another and did the same to Rodrigo De la Fuente, while he and DeMarco Johnson both found easy shots under the basket, too. Meanwhile, Barcelona's first 16 points were not only split evently between Dueñas and Bodiroga, but they took turns, 2 points at a time. Most of those came inside the lane, but outside Barcelona had trouble hitting shots. The game was physical and tensions were high, but the Olympiacos lead stayed at 4 points until the last shot of the quarter, when Juan Antonio Morales put back a rebound and the Reds were ahead 18-24 after 10 minutes.
With its confidence boosted by the first quarter, Olympiacos turned up the defensive heat and added to its lead in the second. Ignacio De Miguel and DeMarco Johnson got baskets inside, but Tomic's second three-pointer was the shot that sent the lead into double-digits at 23-35. Barcelona seemed unable to make a first shot, but second chances coming from offensive rebounds and a press that forced a couple turnovers accounted for three baskets. Sarunas Jasikevicius and Bodiroga got to the foul line for 6 points to cut the lead to 31-37, but Tomic was waiting to hurt the hosts again, with a triple from the corner this time. Then Evans turned on Bodiroga and went uncontested for a dunk. And finally, Tomic shot alone from the top of the lane to return the lead to double digits at 33-44. It was all Barcelona could do - with a triple by Navarro and 2 Dueñas free throws in the fianl 35 seconds - to reach halftime behind by only 38-44. Evans was up to 18 points for Olympiakos while Bodiroga had only missed one shot, a three-pointer, among his 12 points for Barca.
Tomic struck with a triple to re-ignite Olympiacos at the start of the second half, but Jasikevicius answered with just Barcelona's second shot from downtown. The Olympiacos lead was still a solid 7 points, 44-51, when De la Fuente stopped at the arc and dropped a triple on a fastbreak. On the next play, Bodiroga drove, scored and was fouled, making the free throw to cut the deficit down to a single point, 50-51. Tomic, with 3 of 4 free throws, refused to let the lead die, and after a dunk by Dueñas was answered by a drving layup from Johnson, the lead was back up to 4 points, 53-57. Back at the foul line, Barcelona finally got the tie it had been seeking, as Navarro and Bodiroga sank 2 chances each to make it 57-57. Barca's first tie since 8-8 in the first quarter did not last. Johnson hit a running jumper before Nenad Markovic stuck a masterful three-pointer to make it 57-62. Navarro raised hopes for Barcelona with his own triple, but Tomic scored an open baseline jumper and Giorgios Giannouzakos drove for 2 layups as Olympiacos took another six-point lead, 62-68, after 30 minutes.
Barcelona needed to score quickly against the Top 16's best defense to get back in the game, but the final quarter started with a foul shot by De Miguel, a jumper by Johnson and Olympiacos threatening to run away at 62-71. After 3 minutes and 2 misses, Jasikevicius got a basket for Barcelona, but it was a steal and fastbreak layup by Anderson Varejao that got the deficit down to 66-72 and the crowd on its feet. Again, however, Barcelona couldn't keep going. A turnover and a miss by Dueñas were answered with a free throw by Boudouris and another jumper by Johnson put Olympiacos near a double-digit lead again, at 66-75, with under 5 minutes left. Barco looked to Bodiroga, who got 2 points back at the foulline, but on the next possession he stuck a shoulder into Boudouris before shooting and was called for his fifth foul. Barcelona would have to try to survive without him in the 2 minutes, 54 seconds that remained. Jasikevicius took charge with a triple to make it 71-75, then after Johnson missed, he went to the line and hit 2 free throws for 73-75. Then came a fantastic steal by De la Fuente that allowed Navarro to tie from the foul line, 75-75. Most amazingly, De la Fuente repeated the same steal on the next Olympiacos possession and this time Jasikevicius was fouled and hti both shots to put Barca ahead 77-75. Olympiacos had two shots miss, by Tomic and Evans, on the next possession, and with 23 seconds left, Barca started going to the line to seal the deal. Jasikevicius hit 2 more, but Christos Harrisis did the same for the Reds, but De la Fuente added one more with 5 seconds left. Harrisis tried a buzzer-beater to tie the game, but it missed. Barcelona had done the unbelievable to stay in the Final Four race.
Thursday, March 20, 2003