Reigning champion CSKA Moscow returned to the Euroleague Final Four for the seventh time in as many years by finishing off a 3-0 sweep of Partizan Belgrade in the Quarterfinal Playoffs with a 56-67 victory on the road. In a do-or-die encounter for Partizan, the hosts could not take advantage of a huge crowd of 21,352 fans at Belgrade Arena. CSKA now has a chance to defend its title at the Final Four at the o2 Arena in Berlin from May 1-3 and collect its seventh Euroleague crown - and third in four seasons. The biggest lead of the first quarter was three points and Moscow had a 5-point lead in the second period. CSKA took control of the game with a 1-9 run to close the third quarter for a 38-52 lead and Partizan would not get closer than 8 points the rest of the way. Ramunas Siskauskas paced the champs with 20 points, shooting 10 for 10 from the lien to extend his successful free-throw shooting streak to 32. Matjaz Smodis added 18 points and Erazem Lorbek netted 10. Novica Velickovic paced Partizan with a career-high 26 points.
Siskauskas opened the game with the first basket for the guests and Velickovic knotted the score with a hook shot in the lane. After Trajan Langdon's jumper for the defending champs, Velickovic put back an offensive rebound to make it 4-4. Petar Bozic then connected on a triple as Partizan pulled ahead 7-4. CSKA head coach Ettore Messina immediately called a timeout to get his troops to play better defense. Belgrade had already scored more points after a little more than three minutes than in either of its first two first quarters of the games in Moscow. Out of the timeout, Siskauskas found Lorbek for a mid-range jumper. Milenko Tepic's long jumper made it 9-6 before Smodis's long two-pointer from the left wing and Lorbek's layup pushed Moscow back ahead 9-10. The CSKA defense held Partizan scoreless for four straight possessions until Jan Vesely's tough jumper in the lane to make it 11-10. Viktor Khryapa found Siskauskas for an easy basket to give Moscow back the lead before Zarko Rakocevic made one of two foul shots to even things at 12-12. Siskauskas's two free throws were matched by Slavko Vranes's tip-in and Lorbek's foul shot gave CSKA a 14-15 lead after one period.
Stephane Lasme's foul shot started the second quarter and evened the game again at 15-15. Moscow regained the lead on Nikos Zisis's jumper from the right wing and the margin was 5 points on Langdon's three-pointer. The game grew even more intense and both offenses struggled to convert. Partizan's main choice at the offensive end was Velickovic, whose 2 foul shots made it 17-20. Lorbek found a cutting Smodis to reestablish the 5-point advantage before Velickovic knocked down a triple from the right wing. Smodis answered with a three from the right side of his own for a 20-25 cushion. Velickovic continued his assault with a short jumper from the left side and then drained a triple from the right wing to cut the margin to 25-27. Siskauskas's step-back jumper made it a 4-point game but Velickovic dished the ball to Aleksandar Rasic for a three-pointer from the right side again and Partizan was within 28-29. Smodis, though, got an easy layup off a Langdon pass and J.R. Holden made 2 free throws with 5 seconds left in the first half to give the guests a 28-33 lead at the break.
Siskauskas’s mid-range jumper started the second half and Lorbek followed with a reverse layup as CSKA upped the lead to 28-37. Velickovic finally got the hosts on the scoreboard with a steal and breakaway dunk, but Lorbek's free throws put the reigning champs back up 9 points. Velickovic put back an offensive rebound and Rasic drained a triple from the right wing to cut the gap to 35-41. And it was 37-43 after Vesely's free throws. But CSKA stepped up its defense and allowed just 1 free throw over the final six possessions for Belgrade. Smodis knocked down a triple from the top of the key and then found Khryapa for an easy dunk and Moscow made 4 foul shots in a 1-9 push to close the quarter and lead 38-52 after three periods.
Partizan grabbed a number of offensive rebounds on its first possession but was unable to convert. The hosts were however able to hit the first basket on Velickovic's break away layup after a Cedomir Vitkovac steal. And the lead was into single digits, 43-52, on Tepic's three-ball from the left wing. Moscow finally got on the scoreboard after nearly four minutes played on Langdon's tough jumper. Velickovic's two layups cut the deficit to 49-57 with four minutes left in the game. But Holden nailed a critical three-pointer from the left wing to push the lead back to 11 points - 49-60. It was still an 11-point game after Vesely's hook off an offensive rebound and Siskauskas's 2 foul shots. Partizan refused to go down without a fight as Tepic drained a triple from the left side. But Smodis and Siskauskas combined to make 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch and send the champs to Berlin for a chance to defend the crown.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009