Regal FC Barcelona is a step closer to its ultimate dream after topping CSKA Moscow 64-54 on Friday evening in the first semifinal of the 2010 Euroleague Basketball Final Four at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in the French capital. Barcelona avenged defeat against the same CSKA team from last season’s semifinals thanks to a strong showing from star playmaker Ricky Rubio, who scored 10 points and tied a Final Four record with 8 assists. It was a tough battle that went the way CSKA wanted, slow and physical, but a 10-0 second-quarter run gave Barcelona the lead for good and head coach Xavi Pascual’s men made it hold up in what was the lowest scoring Final Four game of the decade. Rubio’s 8 assists match the record for most in a Final Four game that did not go to overtime. Barcelona advances to face the winner of the second semifinal between Olympiacos Piraeus and Partizan Belgrade in the Euroleague title game on Sunday night. Barcelona, whose 11 Final Four appearances is a Euroleague record, is gunning for its second title. Fran Vazquez led all Barcelona scorers with 11 points, while Juan Carlos Navarro added 10 and Erazem Lorbek posted 7 points and 9 rebounds against his former team .CSKA, whose eight consecutive Final Four appearances is also a Euroleague record, will not play for the title for the first time since 2005. Ramunas Siskauskas led the way for the Russian champs with 19 points, Trajan Langdon added 12 and Sasha Kaun was good for 9 points and 10 rebounds.
Barcelona controlled the opening tip and scored first a minute later after Pete Mickeal drew a foul from Siskauskas and sank 2 free throws. Kaun attacked the glass for CSKA’s first basket and after the team kept the ball alive on the offensive glass, Siskauskas sank a floater to give CSKA its first lead. Viktor Khryapa added an open triple to the delight of the Moscow faithful before Langdon followed with a long jumper as the scoreboard flashed 2-9 midway through the opening period. Barcelona, needing to increase its rebounding presence, brought in Fran Vazquez for Lorbek. Mickeal took a feed from Rubio on an inbounds play for a layup. Rubio then stripped Siskauskas, but the steal did not result in a basket. Tough times continued for the Barcelona attack, while Kaun threw down a two-handed jam for a 4-11 score. Mickeal drew a second foul from Siskauskas and Khryapa on successive possessions and made the resulting foul shots to cut the gap to 3. Rubio became the first Barca player other than Mickeal to score when he made a pair of free throws with 1:52 left in the quarter. Rubio then showed off his stuff be exploding through the CSKA defense and dishing to Vazquez for a jam that put their team back on top. Mickeal missed a scoop shot and J.R. Holden was short from midcourt to leave the 10-minute score at 12-11.
Matjaz Smodis’s jumper got stuck between the rim and the backboard on the opening play of the second quarter. Jaka Lakovic responded from downtown to cap an 11-0 Barca burst. Langdon sank 2 from the line and Pops Mensah-Bonsu ignited the CSKA fans with a steal. Holden stormed the Barca defense to knot the game at 15-15. Kaun’s hook cancelled out a Vazquez jumper as the game evened up. After a short rest, Khryapa came in, committed his third foul, and came out, with Pasutin turning to young Andrey Vorontsevich in his place. Siskauskas gave CSKA the edge with a turn-around jumper. Veteran Roger Grimau came off the bench for Barcelona for a layup and Boni Ndong made it 20-19 from the line. Navarro helped his team regain the momentum with a three-pointer and then by drawing an offensive foul from Holden. The pace started to get more frantic – to Barcelona’s liking – and Ndong shined with 2 more free throws and a jumper for a 10-0 run. Holden fed Kaun for another slam, however Ndong remained hot and Holden missed a floater at the buzzer as Barca took a 29-21 lead to the locker room at halftime.
Siskauskas banked in a jumper to open the second half only to see Lorbek match him at the other end. Holden struck from downtown and after Vazquez tipped in a Rubio miss, Langdon sniped a triple to bring CSKA within 4. Navarro came right back with a triple as neither team would wilt. Siskauskas scored inside, but Rubio bettered him with a three. Navarro put Barcelona up by 8 and the team had a chance to add to it, but Rubio could not control the ball in transition and Siskauskas nailed a three to make it 41-36. Rubio stretched himself through the lane and spun in a shot before the TV timeout stopped play. Holden zipped through the Barcelona defense for a layup, but Rubio found Grimau for a basket. Langdon drilled a three only to see Rubio send a perfect lob for a Ndong tip-in and a 47-41 Barcelona lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Terence Morris scored his first basket on the offensive glass at one end and soared a rebound at the other, but a Rubio turnover and missed three kept Barcelona from adding to the lead. Siskauskas sank a shot that hit every part of the rim before bouncing in – and the resulting free throw. Kaun made a statement by rejecting Ndong and Khryapa stripped Mickeal on a play that led to an Anton Ponkrashov layup, bringing CSKA within 49-46 – the closest score since halftime – with five-and-a-half minutes remaining. Navarro set up Lorbek for a layup inside and after Khryapa scored too, Navarro sank a floater as he fell to the ground to keep his team going. Siskauskas rose to the challenge with a long jumper. A Rubio-to-Vazquez alley-oop for a slam brought the Barcelona fans to their feet and lifted the lead to 56-50. Vazquez was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul when trying to stop Kaun. However the CSKA center made just 1 free throw and Khryapa missed a jumper as time began to tick away. Rubio passed to Lorbek for a triple that put Barcelona up 8 with 74 seconds to play. Rubio practically iced the game with a big three pointer, giving Barcelona its biggest lead of the night, 62-51, but Siskauskas matched him with 33.2 second left. However a Vazquez slam on the offensive glass wrapped up a tough win as Barcelona celebrated a ticket to the final.
Friday, May 7, 2010