In a thriller on Thursday, Olympiacos found its way to the Quarterfinal Playoffs for a fourth consecutive season by outlasting direct rival Milano Jeans Milan by 84-81 at home in Piraeus, Greece. Olympiacos lifted its record to 4-1 and, by eliminating Milano, joined co-leader Tau Ceramica, also 4-1, in taking Group E's two playoff spots. Olympiacos visits Tau next week for a winner-take-all finale for first place, which comes with homecourt advantage in the playoffs. The Reds suffered to stay ahead of Milano all the way to the finish on Thursday before a late triple by Lynn Greer and layup by Theodoros Papaloukas opened up the margin to victory. Nikola Vujcic led the winners with 27 points, while Ioannis Bourousis seconded his team's dominance inside with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Yotam Halperin added 10 points for the winners. Milano got a huge game of 27 points and 9 rebounds from Mike Hall, mostly in the first three quarters, before David Hawkins took over with 21.
Bourousis scored the first 13 points for Olympiacos but Milano was never far behind and tied at 39-39 by halftime and 59-59 after three quarters. Back-to-back threes-pointers down the stretch by Hawkins cut the difference to 74-70 before Papaloukas found Greer for a triple that kept Milano at a distance until the finish. Bourousis scored 3 consecutive baskets to get Olympiacos started at 6-2. But, Milano feed the ball inside, too, as Hall connected for a nice dunk-plus-free throw at 6-5. Bourousis kept on dominating, though, offering the home crowd a magnificent one-man show. After four-and-a-half minutes of play, Bourousis had scored all his team's points as Olympiacos led 13-9. Milano was not executing well from the perimeter, but the visitors did a great job on offensive rebounding, having collected 7 of them so far. Hall and Pape Sow put two of them back in the basket for a 13-13 tie. Jannero Pargo became the first Olympiacos player not named Bourousis to score as his three-pointer made it 16-13. Vujcic got the hint and added consecutive baskets at 20-13. Milano connected with a three-pointer by Hall after almost 4 minutes of scoring silence, the Hawkins nailed a jumper. He later drove to the basket to allow the guests stay close at 24-20 after 10 minutes.
Hall continued to hurt Olympiacos with the first basket of the second quarter as Milano's zone defense momentarily hurt the hosts' ability to create opportunities. Vujcic then took over for Olympiacos for points from the line and a nice fade-away at 28-22. The Reds kept trying to solve the zone by feeding the ball inside, where Vujcic kept scoring or dishing to a 30-26 score. Still, Hall was unstoppable for the visitors despite four different Olympiacos defenders - Bourousis, Vujcic, Ian Vouyoukas, and Zoran Erceg - having taken turns on him. When Hollis Price put his name on the scoreboard, too, Milano had cut the difference to 31-29. Vujcic dominated the paint again for 5 points in the row at 36-31, but Milano kept playing with confidence and plenty second chances as Maurice Taylor scored inside and Marco Mordente from behind the arc to tie it up, 36-36. Hall then grabbed another offensive board and scored for a 39-39 halftime score to give himself 16 points already.
Vujcic and Bourousis kept on proving that they could dominate inside with a total of 7 points between them for a 46-41 Olympiacos advantage right after halftime. On the other hand, Hall continued to prove that he was too quick for the Olympiacos big man, as his triple made it 46-44. The story did not alter; Vujcic dominated inside with another couple of baskets, but Hall punished the Reds from outside with another three-pointer. When Price added Milano's third triple in the row the score was tied at 50-50. Josh Childress returned to action after two months sidelined with injury to play at power forward as the fifth Olympiacos player to to guard Hall. However, the latter was in the zone and buried another three-pointer to give Milano its first lead all game, 53-55. Panagiotis Vassilopoulos tied it and then was ordered to man-to-man Hall. But, Hall had no trouble connecting again on the way to another tie, 59-59, after 30 minutes.
Both teams shared some bad decisions to open the final period before Taylor and Bourousis exchanged baskets at 62-61. Erceg connected and Yotam Halperin stole the ball to finish a fastbreak that allowed Olympiacos to take a 66-61 advantage. Price stepped up for Milano to net an off-balance triple, but immediately Halperin answered back in the same way, 69-64. Erceg was accurate from the line and Papaloukas nailed a jumper to build a seemingly safe 73-64 cushion for Olympiacos. Milano was not ready to surrender, however. Hawkins fired in back-to-back triples to cut the difference to 74-71 with 3 minutes still to play. Greer popped in his three-pointer to curb the visitors' enthusiasm at 77-71. Sow and Luca Vitali brought Milano close again at 77-74, but Papaloukas connected from the base-line and when Hawkins missed a three-pointer the odds were now clearly in favor of the hosts. Vujcic increased the lead to 81-74 with less than a minute left until the buzzer. Vitali and Hawkins trimmed it again, to 81-78, as Halperin missed 2 free throws. Greer made both of his at 83-78, however, and when Hall and Price did not find the target from the arc, the winner was decided as Olympiacos sealed a 84-81 victory over mighty Milano.
Thursday, March 5, 2009