A basket-for-basket battle to mark the start of the Euroleague season ended on Monday night with champion FC Barcelona holding onto a tight 59-61 road win against Lottomatica Roma. After a relatively quiet night, Juan Carlos Navarro scored 4 points in the last 11 seconds to give Barcelona a 1-0 record in Group A. Dejan Bodiroga led the winners with 16 points, most of those in the second half. Navarro added 14 for the winners and Vlado Ilievski 12. For Roma, making its Euroleague debut, Carlton Myers put up 16 points, Doremus Bennerman 15, Marko Tusek and Lubos Barton 10. Roma had used the homecourt and the crowd to rack up a seven-point lead early in the second quarter and ignite a crowd of 8,150 enjoying the festive spirit of Rome's first Euroleague game in 19 years. But Barca was back within a basket by halftime and from there inched closed, until stopping Roma's offense for more than 5 minutes in the final quarter, sealing the victory. Navarro's dance through the lane for a layup with 11 seconds left was the key basket, which he followed with a pair of free throws with 3.4 seconds remaining.
There was nervousness on both sides through almost 2 minutes of misses that started the game. Appropriately enough, the first points of the season came off the hand of Bodiroga, who dropped a pair of free throws. That got the scorers started all right. Myers answered with a jumper at the other end and Lubos Barton added a put-back for Roma's first lead, 4-2. Barca newcomer Vlado Ilievski then buried the first three-pointer, which was answered immediately on the other end by Marko Tusek. Myers joined the three-point barrage with one of his own, in between 4 free throws by Barca center Patrick Femerling, who drew two fouls on Roma center Rashard Griffith in the process. Roma slim lead became a 12-12 tie with a free throw by Ilievski, but Tusek popped Roma's third three-pointer of the quarter to get a rise out of the fans. Rodrigo De la Fuente drove to get a basket back for Barca, but missed the free throw. Tusek copied him, driving for a basket, but making the free throw for a three-point play. Then he capped the quarter with a buzzer-beater from the lane for a 20-16 Roma advantage after 10 minutes. Tusek was already the man to watch with 11 points for the hosts, while no Barcelona player had scored more than 4.
The defenses took hold again in a physical start to the third quarter. Only the point guards, Bennerman for Roma and Ilievski for Barca, could find their way through the defenders to make baskets in the first 3 minutes. Barca then got something it needed to see, Bodiroga landing a jump shot to tie the score, 32-32. Things were about to heat up. Myers rose up for his third triple of the night to make it 35-32 Roma, but Barca was coming. Roger Grimau and Bodiroga made pair of jumpers around Tusek's first basket in awhile, and the lead was cut to 37-36. Juan Carlos Navarro gave Barca a lead again with a jumper for 37-38. The team leaders, Myers and Bodiroga, exchanged baskets now, before Bennerman stepped up and made Roma's seventh three-pointer, as compared to just 2 until then for Barca. But after a series of free throws on both sides, Barca found Fucka inside for a dunk that tied it 46-46. Roma had the last possession of the quarter, and Myers passed to Alex Rhighetti alone on the perimeter, but his shot went in and out at the buzzer, leaving the scoreboard tied.
Roma again had a good start to the fourth quarter, as Barton drilled another three-pointer for a 49-46 lead for the home team. But now another Barca star, Navarro, took his turn, with consecutive drives to the basket for new lead change, 49-50. When Bodiroga feathered in another jump shot, Barca had its first lead of more than one point since the first quarter. But when Bennerman got a shot off to tie it, Roma seemed to have steadied its nerves. But nervousness was to touch both teams again, as Fucka missed 2 free throws. At the other end, Roma wasted a three-shot possession and soon was to pay, as Ilievski robbed Benerman and sent Fucka for the go-ahead dunk, 52-54. Fucka was the passer on the next basket, going inside to Femerling for an easy basket and a 52-56 lead. Roma was now finding baskets hard to come by, as a series of outside shots missed. And then Fucka came up big on defense, blocking an attempted fastbreak layup by Myers. The Barca defense was ruling now, going over 5 minutes in a row without allowing a point to Roma. With a free throw by Ilievski, Barca seemed in control at 52-57 with just over 1 minute left. But Bennerman made 2 free throws next, to draw Roma within 54-57, and when Bodiroga missed at the other end, the hosts had a chance. Barca fouled Myers, whose 2 free throws made it 56-57 with 31 seconds left. On the key possession, Barca got the ball to Navarro, who danced through the lane and flipped in the key basket. After Bennerman free throws, Navarro was back with 2 foul shots with 3.4 seconds left that proved the game-winning points.
Monday, November 3, 2003