Barcelona is going to Berlin! Regal FC Barcelona is back in the Final Four for the first time since 2006 after overwhelming Tau Ceramica 78-62 on Thursday before a sellout crowd at Palau Blaugrana in Game 5 to win their best-of-five Quarterfinal Playoff series 3-2. An incredible basketball atmosphere gave Barcelona an extra boost to stay alive in the competition and seek its second continental crown in Berlin from May 1 to 3. Barcelona will face defending champion CSKA Moscow in one of the semifinals. Panathinaikos and Olympiacos will meet in the other semifinal. Great early shooting and outstanding defense let Barcelona play ahead from tipoff to buzzer and manage leads that swelled to 21 points, 70-49, in the final quarter. Home-team hero Juan Carlos Navarro sparked the win with 16 first-half points on the way to 19 for the game, while Ersan Ilyasova matched him, pulled down 10 rebounds and dished 4 assists. Jaka Lakovic added 16 points for the winners. Tau got 19 points on 8-for-10 two-point shooting from Tiago Splitter, 14 more from Pete Mickeal and 10 from Igor Rakocevic. The game marked only the second time in European basketball history that a series has reached a fifth, do-or-die battle, and as in the 2001 finals, Tau lost both times. Navarro had 11 points in the first quarter as Barcelona raced ahead 23-15. A big three-pointer by Pablo Prigioni could only bring Tau within 40-30 at halftime. Tau got within 7 points twice after that, the last time midway through the third quarter, before David Andersen and Ilyasova combined on a 10-0 run that put the game out of reach. Andersen became the first player to reach the Final Four with four different teams - Kinder Bologna, Montepaschi Siena, CSKA Moscow and Barcelona.
Tau head coach Dusko Ivanovic sent out a surprise starter, swingman Fernando San Emeterio, who had played no more than 7 minutes in any previous game of the series. Lakovic got Barcelona going with a three-pointer and Will McDonald made a tip-in for Tau's first points. Navarro struck from downtown and then matched Splitter's jump hook with his trademark 'bomba' shot, a running one-hander. Tau controlled the boards but could not find open shots. Meanwhile, an unstoppable Navarro nailed a fade-away triple and Ilyasova joined Barcelona's three-point shootout by hitting on off the dribble as the shot clock expired. Like that, Barcelona owned a double-digit lead, 14-4. Tau called timeout and tried to open the court by bringing Mickeal and Teletovic on court. Tau's first highlight saw Prigioni pass behind his back to Splitter for a layup-plus-free throw. Navarro matched it, however, with one shot, an eight-meter blast from way above the top of the arc. Splitter responded with an up-and-under layup, then a fastbreak basket by Rakocevic brought Tau back to life at 17-11. Fran Vazquez joined Barcelona's scoring with a second-chance jump hook that Rakocevic answered with a layup in transition. Ilyasova and Lakovic added to Barcelona's lead with consecutive layups. And despite tough defense by the hosts, an acrobatic layup by Splitter, clearly Tau's go-to guy so far, trimmed the difference to 23-15 after 10 outstanding minutes.
Sergi Vidal came on for Tau sank a wide open three-pointer right at the start of the second quarter, while Gianluca Basile briefly left the game for Barcelona with a small injury. Vazquez sent the Barcelona fans to their feet with a layup-plus-free throw combination, but a five-meter jumper by Mickeal kept Tau as close as 26-20. The guests lacked concentration, especially on offense, while Navarro kept pouring in shots, the next one from way downtown - he was 4 for 6 in triples already - to keep Barcelona out of trouble at 29-20. Tau kept struggling to score as Victor Sada managed to prevent Prigioni from feeling comfortable. Navarro made free throws that Mickeal matched with a driving layup, soon adding foul shots to keep Tau as close as 31-24. Lakovic was next to the line and did not miss while Lubos Barton added a shot in traffic to make it an 11-point game, 35-24. Prigioni rescued Tau with a driving layup but Barton matched it with free throws on Mickeal's third foul. David Andersen buried a three-pointer for the highest lead yet, 40-27, as Tau could not get Rakocevic or Splitter involved now. Barcelona missed two tries to up the lead to 16 points, before Prigioni made the hosts pay with a seven-meter triple that fixed the halftime score at 10 points, 40-30.
Teletovic downed a three-pointer immediately after the break but Navarro answered from downtown - his fifth triple - for a 43-33 score. Barcelona successfully locked the defensive boards with Vazquez and Ilyasova together on court. Vazquez dunked it over Splitter but Vidal silenced the crowd with a five-meter jumper. Ilyasova and Splitter traded layups while a jump hook by Vazquez made it a 12-point game, 49-37. Splitter provided a highlight with a wild dunk-and-foul, as Tau slowly improved its defense midway through the third quarter. Barcelona struggled to score now and tried to improve its offense with Andersen back on court. The guests missed several open shots, however, while Lakovic got the crowd involved with a power layup. Splitter scored again in the low post while free throws by Mickeal kept Tau in the game, 51-44. Barcelona quickly readjusted its defense, however, while Andersen buried back-to-back baseline jumpers - one from each side - to give Barcelona some fresh air, 55-44. Ilyasova banked in a triple that made it a 14-point game, 58-44, after 30 minutes.
The fourth quarter started just as the third period ended, as Ilyasova sank a three-pointer from the top of the key - exactly from the same spot - to break the game open, 61-44, after a 10-0 run. Rakocevic buried a close jumper but Ilyasova set the crowd on fire with an outstanding dunk. Tau tried to speed up the game tempo, as Rakocevic raced downcourt for a stop-and-pop jumper. Roger Grimau dunked it while Lakovic finished a long Barcelona offense with a corner triple that sealed the outcome, 68-49, with under 7 minutes to go. Tau called timeout but Barcelona was already running the clock down. Mickeal downed consecutive three-pointers but only managed to bring Tau within 70-55 with 4 minutes remaining. Everything was said and done up to this point, as Barcelona will keep fighting for Euroleague glory. Meanwhile, despite missing the Final Four for the first time since 2005, Tau had a bitter end to yet another fantastic Euroleague season.
Thursday, April 9, 2009