The last Quarterfinal Playoffs spot in the Euroleague was colored red as Olympiacos stormed into the next round with a 81-65 victory over visiting DKV Joventut in Piraeus, Greece on Thursday. Olympiacos finished second in Group E with a 3-3 record and didn't need its tie-break advantage against Partizan, which lost at home to CSKA Moscow. The Reds now turn to face Tau Ceramica, which went undefeated in the Top 16, in a best-of-three playoff series that starts on April 3 in Vitoria, Spain. Game 2 will be in Piraeus two nights later, April 5, and the third game, if necessary, back in Vitoria on April 12. The winner of that quarterfinal playoff series will reach the Final Four in Athens from May 4 to 6. Wanting to make the Final Four in its own back yard has been a theme for Olympiacos all season. With victory required on Wednesday, the Reds shook off early challenges by Joventut to take double-digit leads for good with a 13-1 run on either side of halftime. Henry Domercant had 7 of those points and finished with a team-high 17 for the Reds. Andrija Zizic added 14, Alex Acker and Ioannis Bouroussis 12 each and Sam Hoskin 10 for the winners. For Joventut, Charles Gaines had 15 points and Marcelinho Huertas 12. Joventut played without season-long steals leader Ricky Rubio, who stayed home in Spain, while the team's top scorer, Rudy Fernandez, was injured in the second quarter but returned to action late in the game.
Ioannis Bouroussis grabbed a rebound on defense, went the other way and dropped a three-pointer to get Olympiacos started at 3-0. Andy Betts and Gaines soon found esay basket to put Joventut ahead, but soon Alex Acker nailed a jumper that put the Reds back in front, 5-4. Bouroussis remained a catalyst by dishing a couple of assists to Zizic, but Fernandez from the arc and Betts from inside tied the score again before Zizic broke it with a put-back at 11-9. The Reds stepped on pull the gas as Panagiotis Vassilopoulos dunked a fastbreak alley-oop pass from Scoonie Penn, who then drove for a basket at 15-9. Joventut was unbowed, quickly tying again on a free throw by Betts, a put-back by Gaines and a triple by Marcelinho Huertas. Acker and Sam Hoskin revived Olympiacos with shots inside, but Huertas proved he was hot by popping in consecutive jumpers at 21-19. Vassilopoulos took the last word of the quarter, inbounding on the side and taking the pass back to beat the buzzer with a dunkto leave the Reds up 26-21 after 10 minutes.
Rudy and Domercant exchanged triples to open the second quarter, but Olympiacos kept the momentum going. Vassilopoulos added his own shot from downtown to make it 32-14 and when Acker finished off an open-court layup, the Reds had an 8-0 run and their first double-digit lead. Joventut took a timeout and used a basket-plus-free throw by Gaines to climb back in the game, but at the same time lost Fernandez to an injury when Domercant bumped him in the jaw while going up for a jump shot. Nonenetheless, Lubos Barton, Gaines and Ferran Laviña strung together the next 6 points for Joventut, and the score was suddenly 35-33. Olympiacos needed the timeout, now. Zizic put an end to his team's scoring silence with a layup after an offensive rebound, but Laviña answered back at 37-35. The Reds kept seeking solutions and found one in Domercant, who buried a three-pointer and returned to hit from just inside the arc to beat the halftime buzzer as Olympiacos held the upper hand by 44-36 heading to the lockers.
Bouroussis hit a free throw and Domercant dunked to lift the Olympiacos lead into double digits again, 47-36, after the break. By the time Penn connected from behind the arc, Olympiacos had a 6-0 run and 50-36 lead, while Joventut had gone 4 minutes without scoring. Paco Vazquez finally broke through with a triple for the guests, but Christos Charissis and Domercant upped the difference to 54-39 with free throws. Olympiacos was content to exchange points for awhile, but when Laviña hit a triple to make it 56-46, the Reds took no chances. Hoskin and Acker combined on 6 points in less than a minute to ensure Olympiacos a 64-48 advantage after 30 minutes.
Betts opened the fourth-quarter scoring with a hook shot that Bouroussis matched by beating the shot-clock-buzzer at 66-50. Vazquez gave the guests a quick lift with a rare four-point play as he made the free throw awarded as he also nailed a triple to make it 66-54. However, Acker and Hoskin nailed a basket each to make clear that Olympiacos remained the boss on the scoreboard at 70-54. The Olympiacos fans felt comfortable enough to start dancing in the aisles now, while Gaines found and Bouroussis traded points that made for a 74-56 score with 3 minutes left. The fact that it was 18 behind on the scoreboard and would have needed 35 more - a total difference of 53 - to qualify for the playoffs left Joventut with little inspiration. So the crowd enjoyed some fine dunks from Bouroussis and Gaines as their team eased into the quarterfinals and they sang about their dreams of making it all the way to the Final Four.
Thursday, March 22, 2007