Tau Vitoria of Spain came back from a 16-point first-half deficit on Thursday to do what no other team has done this season, beat Olympiakos at Peace and Friendship Stadium in Athens. The final score was 72-78, but the numbers that mattered most was the 10-28 blitz Tau put on its hosts in the third quarter, and the 41-22 edge it forged on the backboards, where the presence of Olympiakos star Dino Radja (7 points, 8 rebounds) was not felt. Instead, center Victor Alexander of Tau scored 22 points and pulled 8 rebounds, while point guards Elmer Bennett (15 points) and Chris Corchiani (13) dictated the pace. Alexander's frontcourt partner, Fabricio Oberto, led the rebounding dominance with 12, but was just one of four Tau players with at least 4 offensive boards.
Call it Revenge in Athens, one huge upset in the city that avoided the same result by a miracle just 24 hours earlier, when AEK made up 6 points in 35 seconds to beat visiting Benetton Treviso in overtime. There would be no home team comeback last night, not against the zone Tau put up in the third quarter and that totally baffled Olympiakos. No doubt the sight of Bennett and Corchiani at the top of that zone surprised the host team. A week earlier, both point guards were doubtful due to injuries. On Thursday, they each played at least 31 minutes.Tau coach Dusko Ivanovic said that fouls on Mindaugas Timinskas and Saulius Stombergas forced him into playing both point guards.
"That was a forced change," Ivanovic said after the game. "We got the two point guards in there and started to play an aggressive zone and everything worked perfectly. We ended up staying in the zone for 25 minutes. We helped with Dino Radja on the inside and left (Dimitri) Papanikolau and (Nikos) Ekonomou to shoot, but they didn't make much, or at least didn't do the damage that Radja can."
In what will go down as an amazing coincidence, the football team from Vitoria, Spain, also had an historic upset last night, knocking Inter Milan from the UEFA Cup with a 2-0 win at another uncomfortable playing ground for visitors, San Siro Stadium. The only difference is that Tau has to win one more against Olympiakos, albeit at home in Vitoria.
"We have to be ready," said Ivanovic, "because they are going to come to our place to try to show that this game was an exception. It's not over yet." OLympiakos This was the one game that looked like it would be a walkover, if there was such a thing at this stage of the playoffs. Dimitri Papanikolau ripped off nine points as Olympiakos burst to a 16-10 lead which would soon hit 10 points, 24-14. Despite a lack of rebounds on the part of the home team, the lead kept rolling along into the middle of the second quarter, when it reached 38-22 on a pretty fastbreak alley-oop between Stephane Risacher and Doussan Vouktsevic. Things were looking that easy for Olympiakos. It was all an illusion. In the next 15 minutes, Tau would outscore its hosts 39 to 16 to turn the game around.
It started halfway through that second quarter, when Tau's rebounding edge started to take affect, especially on the offensive boards, where Alexander was outplaying Radja again in again. A team that minutes before seemed to greatly lack an outside shooter now didn't need one. By halftime, they had cut 7 points off the deficit, climging within 44-35. Another key moment came on the last play of the half. Not only didn't Olympiakos score, but David Rivers was called for his fourth personal foul.
Tau Ceramica Tau saved its best for after halftime, storming out with a zone defense and a 12-0 run to seize a 44-47 lead. Vouktsevic nailed a three to tie it, but Tau was not done. That would be about the only easy shot Olympiakos threw down. The zone seemed to baffle Olympiakos, which mounted turnovers on top of misses, and got no offensive rebounds in the quarters. In fact, Tau's offensive rebounding edge was at 13-3 after three quarters, while its lead grew to 54-63 on a basket by Alexander, who was up to 18 points already.
The other key to Tau's reversal was Ivanovic's decision to play with two point guards together when, perhaps a week ago, both Bennett and Chris Corchiani were doubtful to even play in this series. Corchiani's three-pointer earlier in the fourth quarter silenced the Olympiakos crowd and pushed Tau's lead into double digits at 56-68. That margin held until more than halfway through the final quarter, at 61-72, when a Stephane Risacher three-pointer started to give Olympiakos hope. The deficit shrunk to 67-72 with two minutes left, however, when Luis Scola tipped in a rebound. Tau only had to guard that at the foulline, as another visitor to Athens, Benetton Treviso, failed to do on Wednesday night. Wouldn't you know that Bennet and Corchiani missed three consecutive foul shots in the final 30 seconds, but Tau defended at the other end and sealed the upset.
Thursday, February 22, 2001