The thrills returned to Thessaloniki, Greece on the first night of the new Euroleague season as a back-and-forth struggle ended with hosts Aris TT Bank pulling out an 87-83 comeback victory over Unicaja, a Final Four team from last season, to open Group B for both teams. Aris trailed by 8 points going into the final quarter before turning things around and fighting off Unicaja to the finish. Reyshawn Terry and Jeremiah Massey shared 15 points in a row as Aris took over for victory in the last 5 minutes. Massey finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds, both highs for the winners, while Terry scored 18 points - including 11-for-11 free-throw shooting in his Euroleague debut. Bracey Wright added 13 points and Dimitrios Tsaldaris 11 for the winners. Davor Kus, the hot hand when Unicaja took its biggest leads after halftime, finished with 17 points for the guests, who also got 16 and 9 rebounds from Boniface Ndong. Marcus Haislip follwed with 12 points and Carlos Cabezas 10. Unicaja held its last lead early in the fourth quarter, was tied 70-70 with 5 minutes left and within a single point twice after that, but Terry and Massey scored all the points in an 8-3 run that put Aris in control for good down the stretch.
The hosts started the game with Tsaldaris hitting the first jumper and Wright firing from the three-point line. Carlos Jimenez then drove to the basket opening the score line for Unicaja. Aris managed to stay ahead 7-4 thanks to Massey but Boniface Ndong took advantage of his height difference tipping the ball into the basket twice. Davor Kus hit a jumper to bring his team within 9-8, but Tsaldaris drilled back-to-back threes to give Aris space again at 15-13. Marcus Haislip buried Malaga's first triple to open a 0-6 run that put visitors in front, 16-19. At that moment, Reyshawn Terry came from the bench to bring energy to Aris, nailing 5 unanswered points for the hosts. But Aris could not stop Ndong, who managed to regain the lead for the visitors just before Agadakos struck from downtown to take it back for Aris, 24-23, after 10 minutes.
Both teams started the second quarter nervous and unable to find the way to the basket during 2 long minutes. Terry re-opened the scoring with a pair of free throws for Aris to which Hanno Mottola added a triple from the arc. Savvas Iliadis capped the 8-0 Aris run to a solid 31-23, while Malaga remained scoreless for the first 4 minutes of the quarter. German Gabriel solved his team's offensive problems by drilling his first three-pointer then. Drives by both Terry and Terrell Castle kept Aris out of trouble at 35-29, but then Berni Rodriguez emerged to wake up the visitors with a triple 2 minutes before halftime. Aris committed back to back turnovers and Carlos Cabezas first cut the margin with a layup and capped a 2-10 run to give Unicaja the lead back at 37-39. It took veteran Giorgos Kalaitzis coming off the bench for Aris to regain a 40-39 lead at intermission.
The third quarter belonged solely to Davor Kus. Unicaja's guard was unstoppable, scoring 9 points in a row capped by an amazing triple to give his team its first solid advantage, 42-46. Even though Lazaros Agadakos tried to push the hosts forward, Jiri Welsh netted a layup plus a free throw to increase the Unicaja edge to 44-51 and force an Aris timeout. The hosts came out again with different attitude as Massey capped a five-point run with a layup that cut the difference to 49-50. The fans of Aris tried to push their team back over the hump and into the lead, but Ndong had his own ideas as he dunked twice to Keep Unicaja in front by 50-55. Bracey Wright reduced the difference with a jumper for Aris, but Kus reappeared to hold Aris down with back-to-back baskets, including a huge triple that gave Unicaja its biggest lead yet, 55-63, to close the third quarter.
Massey had tried to wake up his team late in the previous quarter, but Hanno Mottola proved key of the Aris comeback. Iliadis opened the final quarter with a layup-plus-free throw to cut the margin before Mottola drained back-to-back mid-range jumpers to break Unicaja's zone defense and put Aris up 66-65. Jimenez put his team back in front from the foul line, while Mottola and Santiago traded easy tip-ins. Ndong tied the score at 70-70, but that's when Terry made his decisive move, firing from three-point line to give a big psychological advantage to Aris at 73-70. Cabezas and Ndong drilled easy layups, keeping Unicaja close, but Massey found the way to the basket to keep Aris ahead. The fans put tons of pressure on Unicaja and gave Terry the confidence to finish a great move with a dunk in the traffic that make it 83-76 with 2 minutes left. Haislip tried to propel his team one last time with a triple at 83-80, but Tsaldaris netted a layup and Wright dunked to finish the job for Aris and its delighted fans.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007