Tau Ceramica ended Armani Jeans Milano's fairytale start to the Top 16 with a resounding 108-90 victory at the Fernando Buesa Arena. The result ended Milano’s five-game winning streak and leaves the two teams in the thick of a three-way tie with Olympiacos for first place in Group E at 2-1. Milano hosts Tau in two weeks in the teams’ next game. The visitors kept it close for most of the first half before Tau heated up to take a 55-46 halftime lead. A 14-2 third-period charge increased Tau’s lead to 20+ points as the hosts cruised the rest of the way to victory. Sergi Vidal matched his career high in the first half with 20 points and set it with 6 more in the second half. He finished 6 for 7 on three-pointers. Mirza Teletovic added 19 points, league-leading scorer Igor Rakocevic had 17 and 5 assists, Will McDonald and Pete Mickeal scored 14 each and Pablo Prigioni produced 8 points and 7 assists. Overall, Tau shot 13 for 24 from downtown. Pape Sow paced Armani Jeans with a career-high 25 points, Jobey Thomas added 18, David Hawkins 14 and Luca Vitali 12.
Six points in a row by Sow boosted Armani Jeans Milano in the early going, enough for a short 4-6 visitor lead after two minutes. Tau struggled at the beginning, unable to set the right pace in offense. Milano took advantage of that thanks to a great ball circulation, nice shooting and very intense man-to-man defense. Both teams showed a great intensity in the beginning, and that resulted in a double technical foul called on head coaches Dusko Ivanovic and Piero Bucchi only two minutes after the tip-off. A couple of three pointers by Teletovic and Rakocevic awaked Tau for a while, 11-8, but Armani Jeans answered quickly with Vitali and Thomas to regain a slim edge, 15-18, after 7 minutes. The hosts focused on the perimeter in offense, looking at the wings for three-point shooting. On the other side, the visitors played Vitali in the low post taking advantage of his size to create for his team. Maurice Taylor, in his Euroleague debut, was the one who read the situation best, providing inside points to help Armani retain a short lead, 26-27, at the end of the first quarter.
Tau looked uncomfortable and unable to take control of the game, as Armani Jeans prevented the hosts from feeding their frontcourt. Although the score was balanced, Milano seemed much more effective and calm. A three pointer by Vitali confirmed that feeling raising the visitors’ advantage to 34-37, as Tau only added points after playing risky one-on-one situations. Things seemed to improve for the hosts right after that, as Armani Jeans paid for its great defensive activity with too many fouls that allowed the home team to take a little breath. Rakocevic and Mickeal brought Tau back, as Stanko Barac became big in the zone and prevented visitors from having an easy game inside the paint. Armani Jeans couldn’t stop that sudden turnaround while Tau, led by a pair of threes by Sergi Vidal and free throws by Mickeal and Rakocevic, managed to build a 10-point margin, 50-40, with only two minutes to halftime. Although Sow and Mindaugas Katelynas took over for Milano, it wasn’t enough to stop Tau’s scoring machinery as Rakocevic closed the half with a basket-plus-foul play to make it 55-46.
The game turned into a run-and-gun show after the break. Tau continued the trend it started in the last minutes of the second quarter and showed all its offensive power. Mickeal, Teletovic and Rakocevic gave Tau a 14-point lead, but Armani Jeans didn’t surrender and accepted the scoring challenge. Vitali answered with a three and Hawkins capped a great steal with a monster one-handed fast-break dunk that made it a 9-point game midway through the third period. But the visitors’ reaction ended as quickly as it started because Tau found Prigioni and McDonald for a 7-0 run that extended the lead to 16 points. Things got even worse for Armani Jeans after Mike Hall was called for an unsportsmanlike foul that resulted in 5 points in a row by Teletovic for a 78-59 edge, a big punishment that almost terminated Armani Jeans. Milano looked dizzy at that point, as it lost all balance and tried individual solutions with Hawkins and Taylor, opening the doors for Tau’s wild offense. Another three by Teletovic and a free throw by Thomas closed the quarter with the result in no doubt, as the hosts led 86-63.
The break helped Armani Jeans to get back on track and to remember the fact that the point-difference could become an important factor for the future. Hawkins came up big and punished Tau with 6 points in a row, followed by a short jumper by Thomas to reduce the margin to 86-71 as Tau remained scoreless for almost three minutes. Mickeal was the first one to notice that game wasn’t over yet as he scored 4 points in a row that seemed to awake his teammates and end the drought. The visitors decided to use a zone defense for the last five minutes as a last attempt to come back, but it only worked in the beginning, as Vidal scored a corner three and Barac added a hook shot to extend the gap again to 19 points with less than three minutes to go. Battling only for the point-difference, both teams started a shooting contest that served for nothing but to exchange three-pointers with no clear winner. The difference remained steady as Price and Prigioni answered each other from the perimeter to finish the game with a clear 108-90 home win.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009