Turkish Airlines Euroleague
May 23, 2013
bwin Euroleague Fantasy Challenge
Tel Aviv 2004
Qualifying Rounds 2012
NIKE International Junior Tournament
ROAD TO PARIS: Partizan
Riding a wave of fanatic fans who epitomize what makes European basketball unique, Partizan Belgrade has made it to a Final Four for the first time since 1998. Great work over a several years paid off this season with the club's third consecutive Quarterfinal Playoffs berth, and this time Partizan made the most of the opportunity. Although Partizan heads to Paris as an underdog, it is also the only Final Four team to have beaten two of the other semifinalists. That's not to mention the fact that Partizan eliminated two teams, Panathinaikos and Maccabi, who won four of the last six Euroleague titles. It has been a long time since Partizan lifted its only continental title trophy, in 1992, but legendary head coach Dusko Vujosevic and his versatile, enthusiastic roster are ready to try again.
Just as happens almost every off-season, Partizan lost some of its best players in the summer market, but again found a way to reload its roster and stay fully competitive. Partizan brought back Dusan Kecman after he had won the Euroleague title with Panathinaikos, added size and power in big man Aleks Maric, who came off a quiet season in Spain, and made Bo McCalebb a last-second addition a week before the start of the Euroleague season. Players like Aleksandar Rasic, Slavko Vranes and Jan Vesely would have to step up and make the best of extended playing time, too. The Euroleague American Tour helped Partizan jell in the pre-season, with benefits that Vujosevic saw ahead of time for a new group. "This is a great experience for our young players," Vujosevic said at the time. "The positive effects on the our team will be seen not just after we get back home, but also at the important moments of the season."
Partizan, however, did not have a strong start to the new Euroleague season, which it opened with consecutive losses. Unicaja stole a 64-72 road win in Belgrade and Efes downed Partizan 77-67 in Istanbul. Partizan bounced back with a 78-71 home win against Entente Orleanaise behind 18 points and 9 rebounds from Maric. A 22-point road loss against Lietuvos Rytas saw Partizan drop to 1-3 right before hosting mighty Olympiacos. Backed by an incredible crowd, Partizan rejoined the Top 16 race with an already-critical 86-80 victory behind 25 points from Rasic. Maric stayed on fire with 23 points and 15 rebounds and McCalebb was showing signs of becoming one of the best newcomers in the Euroleague.
"Hope is a real thing. We managed to get back our self-confidence and a good atmosphere on our team," Vujosevic said after the game. "Thanks to our great fans. They were driving us emotionally."
Once captain Petar Bozic returned from injury, Partizan was able to play twin point guards at any time, finding better options for Maric down low and opening the court for Vesely, one of the best cutters in the game. It all paid off in Malaga with a 64-72 road win against Unicaja behind 16 points and 10 rebounds from Kecman. Next, Partizan improved to 4-3 with its third consecutive win by edging Efes Pilsen 93-92 on a game-winning shot by Kecman after Maric simply took over the game with 34 points on 13-of-16 two-pointers and 16 rebounds, good for the highest performance index ranking of the entire Euroleague season - 49. Despite a road loss against Orleans, Partizan roared into the Top 16 by overwhelming direct rival Lietuvos Rytas 97-67 at home in the regular season's next-to-last game. Maric, who had been chosen as the Sportingbet December MVP, got injured early in the game and had to be sidelined for a month. Partizan would be without its most dangerous player for the better part of the Top 16, but it would not be denied making it there.
"With this win we marked a successful end to the first part of the season. All that we planned before the game we did on the court," Bozic said after beating L. Rytas. "I am extremely happy because we reached the Top 16 one game before the end of the Euroleague regular season."
Partizan entered a Top 16 group that featured reigning Euroleague champion Panathinaikos and still undefeated powerhouse Regal FC Barcelona. Far from being intimidated, Partizan opened the Top 16 with a huge 59-74 upset road win against Panathinaikos in Athens. Jan Vesely paced Partizan with 13 points and 6 rebounds. Then, to add shock to surprise, Partizan became the Group E leader with a 67-66 overtime home win against Barcelona, which had seemed unstoppable until then. Once again Vesely shined with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Rasic made clutch free throws in the final seconds and after a long video replay by the referees, a buzzer-beating shot try by Barcelona was ruled no good, setting off wild celebrations in Belgrade. Even when Maric was sidelined, Lawrence Roberts stepped up right when his team needed him most, posting consecutive double-doubles in Partizan's wins against Panathinaikos and Barcelona.
"We tried to give our maximum. This is a fantastic record, 2-0 after two Top 16 games," Rasic said. "Our fans were like never before. It was not easy to play 45 minutes with a team like Barca, one of best teams in Europe at the moment."
Next, Partizan split wins with Maroussi, which meant it needed to copy the Greek team's results in the final 2 games in order to advance. A 79-76 home win against Maroussi behind 20 points from McCalebb allowed Partizan to open the playoff door for the third consecutive season. Maroussi went on to lose its last two games. Even when Maric was back in action, Partizan ended the Top 16 with back-to-back losses against Panathinaikos and Barcelona but its 3-3 record was enough to advance, as the Greens downed Maroussi on the final day.
"We are happy like never before after a loss because we are going to the quarterfinals again," Bozic said. "It's great to be among the best eight teams in Europe, but our ambitions don't stop there. We are going to try to make one more step and reach the Final Four in Paris."
Partizan didn't have the homecourt advantage in the best-of-five series against Maccabi Electra, so it needed to register a road win in order to take advantage later of its home games being moved for the series to the already sold-out 20,000-seat Belgrade Arena. Maccabi fans in Tel Avi could only gape in shock, too, as Kecman fired in 7-of-9 three-pointers on his way to 29 points as Partizan rallied from 21 points behind to steal a 77-85 road win in Game 1. Kecman was Playoffs Game 1 MVP in more ways than just his index rating of 30. With one magic half, he had led his teammates to turn the homecourt advantage in Partizan's favor. Maccabi bounced back for a convincing 98-78 home win in Game 2, but the damage was done already - Partizan would play twice in front of its fans.
"It doesn't matter how I played, what matters is that we won the game," Kecman said after Game 1. "It's a big win for us and I believe we can win more games against Maccabi. We had more and more confidence as the minutes went by, and that helped us make the difference."
With over 20,000 chanting and signing fans inside and thousands others supporting the team all around the city, Partizan used an extraordinary game-night atmosphere in Belgrade to keep its good momentum going in Game 3. Partizan downed Maccabi 81-73 to get a 2-1 lead in the series. McCalebb led the winners with 18 points as Partizan moved to within a victory of its first Final Four appearance in 12 years. It was a unique chance for the Serbian League champs and everyone understood it. Just 48 hours later, with another unbelievable crowd backing the team, Partizan downed Maccabi 76-67 in Game 4 to win the series 3-1. McCalebb led the winners with 19 points and Kecman added 12 in a truly unforgettable game for all Partizan fans. Amazingly, Vujosevic returned to the Final Four as Partizan's coach 22 years after their first one together, in 1988.
"This is something you wait a lifetime for," Maric said. "It was a tough game physically and psychologically, but we won with heart, with five players on the court and with our fans."
It is ironic that Final Four experience on Partizan's roster is limited to Kecman, who helped knock out his old team, Panathinaikos, to become the only player still able to defend last season's Euroleague title. The larger experience belongs to Coach Vujosevic, who managed to combine well-rounded veterans with up-and-coming talents, making the team play up to its limits - and possibly beyond - with his own ability to read games and use his team's versatility. Partizan can use an incredibly tall lineup with Vesely at small forward and Vranes at center or play very dynamic basketball with Rasic and McCalebb together in the backcourt. Partizan's ability to find great players out of nowhere is exemplified again by Maric, who went from a backup on a mid-level Spanish team to one of the most promising big men in Europe. Expect Vujosevic to have enough tactical surprises ready to allow Partizan fans to keep dreaming in the perfect place to do so, Paris.
Friday, April 09, 2010
Regal FC Barcelona
NIKE International Junior Tournament
FINAL FOUR TEAMS
REGAL FC BARCELONA
FINAL FOUR SCHEDULE
SEMIFINALS - FRIDAY, MAY 7, 2010
Regal FCB 64-54 CSKA Moscow
Partizan 80-83 OT Olympiacos
3RD PLACE - SUNDAY, MAY 9, 2010
CSKA Moscow 90-88 OT Partizan
FINAL - SUNDAY, MAY 9, 2010
Regal FC Barcelona 86-68 Olympiacos
Final Four Slides
PAST FINAL FOURS
TEL AVIV 2004