CSKA Moscow put any doubt about its desire to make the Final Four to rest in Athens on Wednesday with a 69-93 blowout road win that was the worst home loss for Olympiacos in its modern history playing European competitions. The win lifts CSKA to a 4-0 record to lead Group D, followed by Tau with a 3-1 as both teams will face each other next week for the decisive game of the group. Meanwhile, the Reds drop to 1-3 and lose all options to make the Final Four. Five players scored in double digits for CSKA, all led by Marcus Brown with 22 points, becoming the best Euroleague all-time scorer with a total 1,213 points in 65 games. Brown was followed by Victor Alexander with 15 points, J. R. Holden added 14 and Aleksander Bashminov and Mirsad Turkcan nailed 11 each. For Olympiacos, Panagiotis Liadelis led the way with 22 points, Boris Gorenc added 14 and Dalibor Bagaric posted 9 and pulled 10 boards.
Before tipoff, the Olympiacos fans welcomed with applauds and songs Dusan Ivkovic, who led the Reds to its only European title and a triple crown in 1996-97. But when the game started, CSKA was all business. Holden nailed 5 consecutive points for an early 0-5 CSKA advantage. Brown and Victor Alexander followed him and the visitors soared ahead 0-11 before Olympiacos knew what had hit it. The Reds missed their first 5 shots before Liadelis scored for 2-11, but CSKA's aggressive defense and balanced offense meant an 11-point gap, 3-14, after 5 minutes of play. Goran Jurak hit a three-pointer for 6-14, but nothing changed for the Reds. Despite the three personal fouls committed by Victor Khryapa, CSKA had few worries. Liadelis and Milan Tomic scored in a 7-2 run that got Olympiacos within 16-22, but CSKA had the last points of the first quarter to hold a 16-25 lead after 10 minutes.
Olympiacos continued to struggle in the second quarter and CSKA quickly opened the gap to 14 points, 16-30, on a Brown three-pointer and a layup by Mirsad Turkcan. Olympiacos coach Dusan Sakota tried to add some energy to his team in the person of Vangelis Sklavos and also changed the defense from individual to zone. That allowed the Reds to cut the difference to 21-30, but they didn't get closer. Sergey Panov and Aleksey Savrasenko came up big to dominate in the paint and to continue the excellent scoring started by Brown. Thanks to all those alternatives, the visitors didn't allow Olympiacos to play their game at all, and instead roared ahead 26-40 on a Panov triple. Savrasenko was good for a basket-plus-foul and Brown another three-pointer as CSKA coasted to the half fully in charge at 27-46.
CSKA got back on court after intermission and not only to guarded the lead, but added to it. With a take-no-prisoners defense and great shooting percentages, CSKA turned the game into showtime. The visitors were unstoppable as Anton Yudin scored a jumper for a 24-point margin, 33-57, after 24 minutes. But the nightmare wasn't over yet for Olympiacos. As the lead reached 30 points, 36-68, the fans recognized and applauded CSKA's superiority, although their team was its way to suffering its biggest home loss ever. An outstanding zone defense by CSKA kept Olympiacos from cutting points as the third quarter closed with the visitors coasting at 40-68 in a basketball exhibition.
There was little that Olympiacos could accomplish in the final quarter, and little CSKA let the hosts do. CSKA continued scoring easily in fastbreak situations and set plays to keep the lead above 25 points. Only Liadelis could make it through CSKA's defensive jungle, and his 7 consecutive points allowed Olympiacos within 59-82. CSKA simply answered with a 0-9 run to a 32-point lead, 59-91, on a layup by Turkcan. That indeed would mean that Olympiacos suffered the biggest home loss ever in its contemporary European history and CSKA could celebrate its fourth consecutive victory, continuing as the only undefeated team in the Top 16, although the final score of 69-93 might have been even more intimidating to its future opponents.
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Vassilis Skountis, Athens