AEK survived a hard battle in its Euroleague Basketball season opener by edging Strasbourg 73-71 in Athens on Wednesday night. Ioannis Kalampokis was the man of the game by drawing a foul with 3 seconds to go and calmly making both free throws to allow AEK to start Group A with a victory. With 7 crucial points in the last 2 minutes, Kalambokis led the winners with 15 points and 5 assists. Slaven Rimac added 12 points, Giannis Bouroussis posted a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds, Amit Tamir also scored 11 points while Spyros Panteliadis added 10 for AEK. Zelly Wesson led Strasbourg with 14 points and 8 rebounds while Alvin Young had 11 points for the guests. It all came down to the final minutes, in which Strasbourg rallied to get a 68-69 edge. Kalampokis didn't panic, as he nailed a critical three to keep his team alive and then sealed the outcome from the free throw line.
The tipoff of the game found the two balanced teams, neither with an easy chance to take a solid lead. AEK tried to play good defense and to take advantage of its fastbreak opportunities, but Strasbourg managed to control the game rhythm and used a 0-5 run for 2-5 jump on the scoreboard. Kalambokis dunked for AEK to tie 7-7, but Young didn’t allow the hosts to take a lead. He scored 7 quick points, mainly on drives, good enough for a three-point Strasbourg lead, 9-12, midway through the first quarter. Spyros Panteliadis sank a three-pointer for a 12-12 tie and Michalis Pelekanos pushed AEK ahead 13-12 lead. Tamir hit another shot from downtown to cap an 11-4 run with a 21-16 AEK lead. The visitors lacked concentration, especially in defense, but only let AEK with the first quarter 21-19.
Rimac came up big early in the second quarter, sinking 2 three-pointers that allowed AEK to soar ahead 31-25. Young copied him from downtown to get Strasbourg withing 31-28 with 5 minutes left until halftime. Strasbourg tried harder on defense, but the Yellows stayed ahead thanks to the good rotations that gave the hosts a lot of alternatives on offense. Rimac scored an extremely difficult basket for 37-32, but the guests reacted, led by Young and Stanley Jackson, whose points forged a 37-37 tie. Strasbourg was dominating under the boards and had outrebounded AEK by 13-6 so far, but a series of turnovers proved to be the X-factor in the last minutes of the second quarter. AEK went on a 5-0 run and reached the locker room five points ahead, 42-37.
As the third period began, Dror Hagag scored to give AEK its best lead yet, 44-37, but Strasbourg did not go away. The visitors didn't face special problems against AEK's zone defense, but rather went on a 7-15 run led by brothers Ricardo and Jeff Greer to regain the lead, 51-52. Kalambokis hit a big three down the stretch to seize the advantage back for AEK, 54-52, and Tamir reached double digits when his jumper made it 56-52. John McCord's three-pointer kept Strasbourg within 56-55, but Bouroussis grabbed an offensive rebound and scored at the buzzer to put AEK up 58-55 after 30 minutes.
Bouroussis opened the fourth quarter with another buzzer basket, to beat the 24-second clock and give AEK a 60-55 edge. When Jeff Greer sank a three-pointer for Strasbourg, Pelekanos matched him from the arc and added a three-pointer to put AEK up 66-59. At that moment, Strasbourg switched to zone defense to zone, causing AEK problems. Wesson pushed Strasbourg on a two-minute, 0-9 run as Young scored again after 23 minutes of silence and McCord bagged four consecutive points with wich the visitors seized a new lead, 66-68. With 1:30 to go, Kalambokis tied 68-68 and followed on AEK's next chance with a big three-pointer for a 71-69 lead. The game was headed for a thrilling end, as Aymeric Jeanneau tied at 71-71, with 33 seconds to go. Kalambokis shot and missed, with the rebound going out of bounds, and the ball awarded to AEK. With 3 seconds left, Kalambokis was fouled by Young and made 2 for 2 free throws for 73-71. Strasbourg tried one more shot to go home victorious, but Greer's three-pointer at the buzzer missed and AEK held on.
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Vassilis Skountis, Athens