CSKA Moscow hung on for dear life to at least its share of first place in Group C when it outlasted Aris TT Bank 62-65 on the road in Thessaloniki, Greece on Wednesday. A back-and-forth game came down to the last half-minute, in which Matjaz Smodis converted a feed from Theodoros Papaloukas, who then stole the last possession the hosts to preserve CSKA's first-ever road win at Aris. CSKA improved to 8-1 and could take over first place exclusively depending on how co-leader Winterthur FCB handles its trip to third-place Benetton Treviso on Thursday. Aris dropped to 4-5 but is safe in at least fifth place. Aleksey Savrasenko paced the winners with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. Trajan Langdon chipped in 13 points while Smodis added 12 while Papaloukas had 6 assists and 4 steals. Alex Scales was the big gun for arris with 17 points. Mike Wilkinson added 11 while Jerome Massey took 8 rebounds and blocked 3 shots.
Minutes before tipoff, the sellout crowd of 5,500 at Alexandreio Arena gave Papaloukas an honorary standing ovation and then erupted so as to push Aris to a flying start. However, it was CSKA that got first on the scoreboard behind back-to-back baskets by Savrasenko. Aris responded with its frontcourt players -Mike Wilkinson and Jeremmiah Massey - and, as CSKA failed to hit any perimeter shots, the hosts raced ahead 6-4. J.R. Holden finally ended the drought for the guests, yet it was evident that CSKA struggled in half-court sets. Massey scored on a spinning move against Savrasenko and moments later rejected Holden to keep Aris in front, 8-6. Papaloukas came off the bench to provide spark, and so he did. The Final Four MVP first drove to the basket and then fed Thomas Van den Spiegel for a two-handed dunk to forge a 10-10 tie. After another amazing block by Massey, Scales hit a jumper to give Aris a four-point lead, but then David Andersen buried a triple to allow CSKA to pull within 14-13 after 10 minutes of play.
The second quarter started with neither team allowing any easy points. Aris veteran Giorgos Sigalas managed to cut the Gordian Knot by dishing a couple of assists and then Wilkinson connected from beyond the arc to built a 21-17 advantage for the hosts. CSKA struck back and thanks to 6 points by Langsdon tied it up, 23-23. Savvas Iliadis slashed to the basket to put Aris in front, ingniting a 6-0 run capped by smooth shooter Mahmud Abdul-Rauf. CSKA took a timeout to get the momentum back, which happened when Smodis converted a three-point play and Anton Ponkrashov stole from Abdul-Rauf for a fastbreak layup good for a 29-30 visitors' lead. Aris seemed in trouble now, but Massey lifted up the crowd with another block – this one on Andersen - and and offensive rebound that led to 2 free throws and a new Aris advantage, 31-30 at halftime.
At the start of the second half, Scales and Smodis exchanged baskets until Terrel Castle knocked down a triple for a 36-32 Aris edge. Smodis happily answered back from the other arc, but Scales upped the ante with a triple of his own. Despite the noisy atmosphere, the Euroleague champs kept their composure and used 4 points by Holden to claw back and burst in front again, 40-43. Eventually Ioannis Giannoulis ended the Aris silence, but on the other end CSKA found a go-to guy in Savrasenko, who carried the guests on his shoulders with consecutive layups en route to a 45-51 lead after three quarters.
Early in the fourth quarter, a dunk by Papaloukas extended the CSKA advantage to 45-53, however Aris was not willing to go down. Castle combined with Wilkinson to trigger a 5-0 run and the home fans burst into chants as the hosts were now close on CSKA's heels. The guests rebuilt a 50-57 lead behind Smodis and Savrasenko baskets, but their advantage dwindled in a hurry due to Scales, who rattled off 8 straight points - including a pair of wild triples - for a 58-57 Aris lead with 4:50 to go. CSKA took a timeout and came back firing, as Langdon scored on a layup and a free throw to reclaim a 58-62 edge. Castle drained free throws for Aris but Smodis then made an uncontested layup on another magnificent assist by Papaloukas. With 19 seconds left Massey dunked an offensive rebound and Aris chose to foul Holden. The CSKA point guard split the free throws and the hosts had the chance to send the game to overtime with a final possession. Instead, Papaloukas stripped Giorgos Kalaintzis for a steal that preserved a 62-65 victory and a share of first place in Group C for CSKA.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006