It didn't seem like a game between a a second-place and a last-place team. But then again, even playing on the road in as competitive an arena as Paf Bologna's Paladozza, KK Zadar of Croatia isn't your average last-place team.
Though the final result went in Paf's favor, 81-77, it was hardly a given. Crunch time alone was worth the price of admission. Zadar had the chance to take a lead in the final two minutes, but point guard Patrick Baldwin's layup rolled out. With the rebound, Paf got the ball to the steady Andrea Meneghin, whose basket gave Paf a 73-71 lead. Two big defensive plays ? guard Gianluca Basile's blocked shot against Ivica Maric and Adrian Autry's steal against Baldwin - gave Carlo Recalcati's team the two extra points that it needed to hang on, and keep the race for first place in Group A alive.
It was a strange game, in that Paf run away with the first quarter thanks to so many fastbreak points. The home team seized leads of 12 ? 4, then 18 ? 4, and the first quarter ended 25?10. Gregor Fucka, who finished with game highs of 27 points and 13 rebounds, owned the paint, where he has been putting in extra duty while Paf auditions centers to replace the injure Eurelijus Zakauskas.
In the second quarter, Zalgiris lined up in a zone defense that immediately allowed them to start making up the gap. Darko Krunic, the MVP of the Euroleague last week, got the comeback going with a three-pointer among five quick points. Baldwin started driving inside, breaking Paf's double-teams, even hurting the home team with offensive rebounds, of which he finished the game with 8. Center Davor Pejcinovic dominated the defensive rebounds, and eventually would match Fucka's total of 13 on the night. Meanwhile, Paf kept up its fast break, but the comeback was nearly complete as the second quarter ended 38-30.
The third quarter began with Paf reasserting itself, forcing Zadar into turnovers and extending its lead to 11 points (62 - 51) going into the final period. What came as a surprise, then, was how risky such a big lead at home became for Pag. Baldwin had a little to do with that, as he fired in two three-point shots and added a three-point play as that double digit lead dwindled to a single point. Although Paf squeezed four points out of Meneghin and Fucka, Pejcinovic was able to tied the game at 66 with a dunk. Then Meneghin and Jurica Ruzic traded three-pointers for another tie, before the final one, at 71-71, came on two free throws by Baldwin.
But Baldwin coulnd't be so sure with the key layup in the final two minutes, and with those decisive defensive plays, Paf was able to pull of the victory. Besides his points and rebounds, Fucka came up with 5 steals, not bad for a 2.15-meter center. Meneghin contributed offensively with 20 points, shooting 6 for 8 from the field), while Baldwin reached very near to become the hero of the game with 22 points and three-pointers that put the fear in Paf and its fans. It's just that he couldn't make the short layup that might have capped the upset of the season.
Thursday, December 14, 2000