Real Madrid edging Unicaja 80-81
Nikola Mirotic dropped in a frantic shot with 0.5 seconds remaining to give Real Madrid a thrilling 80-81 victory over fellow Spanish league club Unicaja in the teams’ Top 16 Group F opener on Thursday at Martin Carpena Arena. The last two minutes saw two ties and three lead changes in a true nail-biter that wasn’t settled until Berni Rodriguez’s desperation heave at the buzzer missed. It was a back-and-forth game all night that featured plenty of highlights and unending drama. Mirotic, the Euroleague’s December MVP, finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Kyle Singler paced los Blancos with 13 points, Ante Tomic tallied 12 points and 7 boards, Sergio Rodriguez registered 11 points and 9 assists and Felipe Reyes added 10 for the winners. Luka Zoric starred for Unicaja and made up for the absence of the injured Joel Freeland by posting 32 points and 10 rebounds – including the go-ahead tip in on a Kristaps Valters’s miss with 9.8 seconds remaining. Valters finished with 9 points and 7 assists in defeat.
Sergio Llull scored on the game’s first possession and then Mark Payne – making his first Euroleague start – assisted to Zoric for Unicaja’s first basket. Singler drained a triple and Tomic scored down low as Madrid silenced the once raucous Martin Carpena Arena with a 4-11 lead. Valters brought Unicaja right back with a pair of triples surrounding a Zoric basket to trim the deficit to 12-13. Valeters then split free throws to tie the score. Mirotic answered with a steal and slam to put Los Blancos back ahead. After a Zoric free throw, Jorge Garbajosa threw in a runner to give the hosts their first lead, 16-15, and E.J. Rowland got inside for another score. Rowland thrilled the crowd with a circus shot at the buzzer to make it 20-15 after 10 minutes.
Mirza Begic and Reyes carried the visitors back within 1 early in the second quarter. Berni Rodriguez teamed up with Nedzad for a highlight by penetrating and dumping a pass to the center for a wicked slam. But Begic dunked on the offensive glass and Reyes went to work inside for a three-point play that tied the score at 24-24. A big three by Berni put Unicaja back on top as the offense continued to flow fast. Hrvoje Peric added a slam in transition for the hosts before Sergio Rodriguez set up Marty Pocius for an alley-oop slam that made it 31-30 midway through the second quarter. A brilliant pass by Sergio Rodriguez to Singler resulted in a layup to keep things close. Zoric let out some emotion after a slam, but Singler countered from downtown to even things at 35-35. Great defensive plays at both ends kept things even. Zoric hit a mid-range jumper that left Unicaja in front 39-37 at halftime.
Berni penetrated for a scoop shot before Zoric – after recovering his own blocked shot – scored to make it 62-63 and called on the crowd to raise the din. Fitch completed the come back with a drive into Mirotic for a layup. After a timeout, Unicaja’s tough defense denied Madrid again before Valters capped an 8-0 run to make it 66-63. Llull ended the Madrid drought with a drive for a basket-plus-foul to tie the score. But Zoric hit from outside and Fitch from the line as the hosts kept climbing. Sergio Rodriguez answered with a step back triple, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Unicaja momentum. Valters drove and dished to Peric before Zoric scored a fastbreak layup that bounced several times on the rim before going in to make it 74-69. Mirotic kept Madrid within 3 with a short jumper with three minutes to go. After Peric missed twice from the line, Sergio Rodriguez nailed 2 with 2:30 left to make it a 74-73 game. The visitors came through with a defensive stop and Tomic completed the Madrid comeback with a hook shot with 1:49 to play. Garbajosa nailed a long jumper to tie the score, but seconds later Sergio Rodriguez dropped in a layup to keep put Madrid up 76-78. Zoric went to the line with 40 seconds left and netted 2 to tie the game. Sergio Rodriguez split free throws with 28.1 seconds remaining to go ahead 78-79. After a timeout, Valters held the ball at the top of the key for several seconds before blazing a trail to the hoop for a go-ahead layup with 9.8 seconds on the clock. Sergio Rodriguez drove and kicked out to Mirotic, who dribbled and threw up a frantic shot that sailed through the enst with half a second left to snatch a nail-biting win.
Thursday, January 19, 2012