A weekend in Spain turned out to be just what Olympiacos needed to put itself on the brink of making the playoffs with a sizzling 75-87 road win over Unicaja in Group D on Tuesday. Olympiacos, having stayed in Spain to practice for four days after losing its first Top 16 game at Winterthur FC Barcelona last week, has now raised its record to 3-1 while dropping that of Unicaja to 1-3. If undefeated Winterthur FCB defeats winless Zalgiris at home in Barcelona on Thursday, Group D will be decided: Barca and the Reds will reach the Quarterfinal Playoffs. Great defense by Olympiacos that held Unicaja without a field goal through almost the first 9 minutes after tipoff set the tone for the victory. Veteran guard Tyus Edney did the rest, pacing Olympiacos with 25 points to high leads from the first quarter onwards. Quincy Lewis added 15 points for the Reds, Andrija Zizic 13, Manolis Papamakarios 12 and Panagiotis Vasilopoulos 10. Unicaja got 23 points from Marcus Brown, including 13 of 15 free throws, and 19 points from Jorge Garbajosa. The closest the hosts got in the second half was 7 points, 70-77, heading into the final minute, but a Zizic free throw and Vasilopoulos dunk denied Unicaja any rally.
Papamakarios hit a triple from the corner to get Olympiacos started before Brown scored Unicaja's first points on free throws. Edney sweetly assisted Zizic while the Olympiacos defense frustrated Unicaja's attempts to establish an inside game. Unicaja was in trouble soon as Lewis hit a post-up turnaround jumper and the first of many Olympiacos offensive rebounds led to a triple by Edney. By the time Zizic got loose for a basket-plus-free throw, it was 2-12 and Unicaja needed a timeout. After that, Brown got to the line for 4 more points, but the hosts would wait awhile for a real basket. Meanwhile, Olympiacos was going to its bench, from which Sofoklis Schortsanitis introduced himself with an offensive rebound and a pair of free throws to make it 6-14. Stephane Risacher drilled 3 free throws then for Unicaja, but Renaldas Seibutis and Lewis erased them with baskets. With 1 minutes, 20 seconds left in the quarter, Sandro Nicevic finally made a two-pointer from deep for Unicaja, but Vasilopoulos went the other way to better him with a triple. Before the quarter could end, Edney rolled off Schortsianitis for a jumper then drove through the defense for an acrobatic layup and a 13-25 lead for the Reds after 10 minutes.
An three-pointer to start the second quarter by Garbajosa failed to uncork the hosts. The Unicaja reserves couldn't get to the basket any better than the starters, and now Unicaja was missing some free throws, including a pair by Garbajosa. Meanwhile, Edney ran fullcourt like a teenager for a basket-plus-free throw that doubled Unicaja's score, 16-32. For every point Unicaja got, the Reds seemd to make two. The Reds were defending great, denying passes and trapping for steals, while Unicaja fell into foul trouble with big men Nicevic and Daniel Santiago up to 3 each by the middle of the quarter. Unicaja chose zone defense now, and on the first possession, after yet another yet offensive rebound, Lewis scored to make it 19-39. After Florent Pietrus took advantage of some free throw opportunities for Unicaja, Brown finally got the hosts really moving again. His driving basket-plus-free throw got Unicaja within 24-39, and after Edney drove to beat the shot clock with an incredible layup, Brown was back from the baseline with another three-point play that made it 28-41. But that rally died there. Lewis free throws and a Papamakarios jumper boosted the visitors before Edney finished a brilliant half with a driving layup and a buzzer-beating baseline jumper for a 30-49 Olympiacos halftime lead.
Schortsanitis dunked to start the second half with the biggest Olympiacos lead yet, 30-51. Garbajosa reacted by scoring inside and from the arc, while Santiago added a basket to bring the hosts within 37-51. Schortsanitis answered with a jumper before the Olympiacos defense took over again, allowing only free throws before Vasilopoulos could penetrate for a three-point basket-plus-free throw to make it 39-56. Zizic then hit from the post and Edney from the foul line to make it 41-60. When Edney was fouled again, Unicaja needed a timeout. Amid a few missed triples by the guests, Garbajosa got a point back at the free throw line and a basket driving, but for the third quarter in a row, Edney had the last say with a short jumper to keep the Reds in charge at 44-63. .
Almost all of Unicaja's hopes seemed dashed when Lewis and Nikos Hatzis boosted the Olympiacos lead to 44-67 with baskets to start the final quarter. But the hosts had one more rally in them, filling a 12-1 run with two baskets by Walter Herrmann and one each by Brown and Carlos Cabezas. Garbajosa finished the surge with free throws to make it 56-68, but again the answer from Olympiacos was swift. A triple by Papamakarios and another Edney layup reestablished a 17-point lead, 56-73, with under 5 minutes left. After another series of free throws, Unicaja tried again, with Berni Rodriguez and Risacher combining for 5 straight points before Brown's layup to start the final minute cut the difference to its lowest since the first quarter, 70-77. The key play came moments later on a steal by Papamakarios that led to a dunk by Vasilopoulos and put the matter out of doubt. Olympiacos was on the brink of the Quarterfinal Playoffs and Unicaja on the brink of elimination.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006