Making it halfway through the regular season undefeated proved a matter of good fortune for CSKA Moscow on Wednesday as it survived five game-winning shot attempts by host Partizan on the game's final possession before escaping Belgrade with a 62-63 win in Group D. The victory pushed CSKA to 5-0, at least two wins better than any other team in the group, while Partizan fell to 2-3 and a tie for either third or fourth place depending on Thursday results. The hosts came oh-so-close to a huge upset, however, taking several tries close to the basket in the final 35 seconds before the buzzer sounded without any of them falling. Erazem Lorbek's single free throw earlier in the final minute, his team's only point in almost 4 minutes of futile shots at a Partizan zone, proved the game-winner for CSKA. The Euroleague champs had another ensemble effort with Lorbek and Zoran Planinic posting 11 points each, while Nikos Zisis and Ramunas Siskauskas had 10 each. A highlight was the return of team captain Matjaz Smodis for his first Euroleague game of the season. Smodis finished with 9 points, including the put-back that was CSKA's last basket. Partizan got all kinds of contributions, too, with Milenko Tepic scoring 14 points and Novica Velickovic 10, while teenager Jan Veseley pulled 9 rebounds and Uros Tripkovic buried key shots to rally the hosts.
Partizan looked inside early, getting Aleksandar Rasic and Stephane Lasme to the line for free throws to go up 4-0. Planinic soon blew through the lane for a layup to spark CSKA, but Lasme and Slavko Vranes each got loose for dunks as Partizan stayed ahead 8-4. Lorbek answered with a mid-range jumper for CSKA, and after several empty possessions for each side, downed a similar shot to tie 8-8. Smodis came on for the first time all season but quickly got whistled for a foul from which Velickovic hit 1 of 2 free throws. Lorbek kept it going with lane jumpers that Tepic matched at the foul line. Planinic attacked inside twice around a Velikcovic basket and passed long to Viktor Khryapa for a dunk that put CSKA up 13-16. Strahinja Milosevic bolted inside and Velickovic banked a hook shot for Partizan, but in between them, Zisis scored a three-point layup-plus-free throw to let CSKA win the quarter, 17-19.
Smodis got his first points of the Euroleague season on a big triple to open the second quarter, while Zarko Rakocevic gave Partizan's two-point answer. A Zisis free throw made it 19-23 for the visitors, but again the defenses took over, denying shots with physical, hustling play, highlighted by a nifty Lasme block. Almost 5 minutes without a basket ensued until Tepic ran off a screen and hit a jumper at 21-24. He remained the exception, however, as a series of challenged shots missed or were blocked, including another by Terence Morris. Planinic finally fed Siskauskas for an inside basket, ending CSKA's long drought. The shot also put Siskauskas over 1,000 points in his Euroleague career, but he wanted more, and got it with a triple on the break for a 21-29 lead that forced a Partizan timeout. The hosts played inside-out to get the triple back from Petar Bozic, but Zisis drove easily for a layup in response. Tepic made a flying tap-in at 36-31, before Planinic nailed a running layup-plus-free throw combination on Velickovic's third foul, restoring an eight-point lead, 26-34. A third-chance basket by Rakocevic and free throws by Lasme got Partizan back within 30-34 before the half ended.
Tepic faked three times before burying a triple to start the second half by raising the Partizan crowd to the roof. Partizan missed a chance to go ahead then and paid for it when first baskets by Langdon and Morris boosted CSKA ahead 33-38. Vranes came up big with a put-back dunk and Tepic ducked in for a layup as Partizan got within 37-38. Again Partizan missed a go-ahead shot, and again CSKA answered with twin baskets, these by Landgon and Zisis. When Lorbek finger-rolled over Lasme it was 37-44 and Partizan needed a timeout. The hosts needed something more, too, and it came when Bozic knocked down a second-chance triple at 40-44. CSKA got the better of an exchange of free throws to make it 41-48, and when Partizan looked for more help, Tripkovic completed a tough three-point play. Suddenly, Rasic was doing the same on the break and the score was 47-50. After more CSKA free throws, Milosevic came out of nowhere to put back an offensive rebound. Then on an out-of-bounds play with 1 second left, Tripkovic blasted a triple from the wing, tying it all up, 52-52, with a quarter remaining.
Velickovic supplied Partizan's first lead since the opening quarter with an inside basket to open the fourth. Langdon got those points back at the line and Lorbek hustled to put back a rebound, restoring CSKA's lead at 54-56. Another of the game's scoring lulls followed until Zisis drew Lasme's fifth foul and dropped both free throws at 54-58. After Tripkovic's next triple try rimmed out, Smodis hit free throws, too, but fouled Tepic, who scored and hit the extra free throw to make it 57-60 with 4 minutes left. Smodis battled and threw down an offensive rebound for a 57-62 scoreboard, and again Partizan went searching for heroics. After Velickovic hit 1 of 2 free throws, Tirpkovic beat the 24-second clock with an up-and-down fallaway jumper at 60-62. Now, Velickovic stole and went coast-to-coast for the game-tying basket with 2 minutes to play, 62-62. CSKA took a timeout and tried, but failed, to attack the Partizan zone. The hosts also missed a pair of close shots to bring the tie into the final minute. Langdon missed a triple, Morris rebounded, and Lorbek was fouled by Rasic as Planinic missed from deep. Lorbek made only the second of his free throws, however, for a 62-63 CSKA edge with 35 seconds left. Partizan used all of those 35 seconds, getting five shots at the basket after three offensive rebounds. None of them fell, however. CSKA was still undefeated, and Partizan's seven-game Euroleague home win streak was over.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008