Despite trailing for three quarters of a defensive war, Unicaja forged a three-way tie for first place in Group A when it outlasted visiting Olympiacos 60-56 before 10,000 happy fans in Malaga, Spain on Wednesday. Unicaja took its first lead of the game on the last play of the third quarter but had to overcome several more ties, the last at 54-54 with under 4 minutes left, after which the hosts held Olympiacos to just 2 points. The victory meant that both teams are now 5-2 and tied for first place with Cibona, which won earlier in the evening, while Olympiacos missed a chance to clinch a Top 16 spot. Thomas Kelati was the only player for the winners to reach double digits in scoring, with 16 points, including insurance free throws with 18 seconds left. Unicaja got a huge lift from Carlos Cabezas as he returned from a recent injury to score 9 points in 12 minutes. Olympiacos, which enjoyed a couple of double-digit leads with stifling defense before halftime, got 12 points each from Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Georgios Printezis, while Ioannis Bourousis added 10.
Georgios Printezis flew to the rim to dunk a miss by Greer for Olympiacos before Cook fed Archibald for a fastbreak dunk to tie 2-2. Greer saved a possession late with an acrobatic layup and Vujacic assisted a cutting Teodosic as the guests went up 2-7. Unicaja went back inside to Archibald, whose next basket was matched quickly by Childress. Kelati's stop-and-pop three-pointer pleased the crowd, but Printezis joined the Olympiacos parade ot the basket. Welsch's inventive drive and Cook's mid-range jumper forged an 11-11 tie, but Childress assisted a layup by Vujcic, who then blocked Welsch at the other end. Schortsanitis entered and immediately upped the Olympiacos lead to 11-15. A pinball-like series of blocks and steals at both ends ended with Papaloukas scoring on the break, but Joseph Gomis answered for Unicaja. And when Bourousis went for an acrobatic three-point tip-in-plus-free throw, Cook found Kelati in the corner to beat the buzzer and trim the Olympiacos lead to 17-20 after 10 minutes.
A quiet minute to start the second quarter ended with a noisy Schortsianits stealing at one end and scoring at the other for the Reds. Paul Shirley responded with a triple to keep Unicaja within 19-22. With baskets hard to come by, Bourousis assisted a layup by Schortsianitis, who soon got to the line and made both chances for the biggest lead yet, 19-26. The Olympiacos defense was completely shutting down the hosts now, while Papaloukas waltzed inside to feed Bourousis and force a Unicaja timeout. Greer added a free throw for a double-digit lead, 19-29, as Unicaja's offensive problems approached crisis proportions despite Haislip returning after two games missed with injury and quickly drawing two fouls. After Printezis drove for a layup, Unicaja was desperate for someone to step up, and that someone was Carlos Cabezas, also back from injury, who drilled a triple from the wing. Defense betrayed the hosts, however, as Papaloukas scored and assisted Printezis. Cabezas inspired the crowd with another triple, but Olympiacos remained in control at 28-35.
Kelati lifted the crowd's spirits with a jumper to open the second half. After Schortsianitis again made scoring look easy inside, Kelati buried a triple to give Unicaja new momentum. Cook next fed Shirley for a layup to draw the hosts within 35-39, but Childress skied for an offensive rebound that he turned into a three-point play for Olympiacos. Carlos Jimenez answered for Unicaja this time, hitting long from the corner to make it a two-point game again, 38-40. Another mix of blocks and turnovers stalled the scoring for more than 2 minutes until Boniface Ndong hooked in a shot to tie at 40-40 after 26 minutes. Vujcic hit his first complete pair of free throws all night to put Olympiacos back in front, but Ndong hooked anew for another tie. Printezis returned with a quick turnaround bank shot, but Ndong blocked and Cabezas went coast to coast to make it 44-44. Unicaja finally seized its first lead of the game as Welsch's turnaround in the lane made it a 46-44 scoreboard after 30 minutes.
Although Ndong denied him at the rim to start the final quarter, Childress put back the rebound for a new tie, 46-46. Cabezas stirred the fans again by hitting a short jumper and the extra free throw for Unicaja's first lead of the game, 49-46. When Welsch fed Ndong for an open fastbreak dunk, the turnaround was a fact. Now it was the Reds who couldn't score, as Cook fed Shirley in the post to make it 53-46. Olympiacos needed a timeout, after which Schortsianitis entered and got to the line, where he ended his team's four-minute scoring drought. Archibald hit 1 of 2 free throws at 54-48, but an offensive rebound led to a three-point basket-plus-free throw by Bourousis. Another in a series of second-chance possessions let Papaloukas bury the game-tying triple at 54-54 with under 4 minutes remaining. Archibald got a free throw out of his next battle with Schortsianitis, and that held up until Welsch added another to make it 56-54 with 2 minutes left. Bourousis forged yet another tie by putting back a Childress miss, setting up a thriller ending. Archibald now put back a miss by Kelati, and that held up as a 58-56 lead going into the final minute. After a timeout, Olympiacos missed a pair of shots on the same possession, and then had to foul. Kelati nailed both his free throws with 17.9 seconds left, good for a four-point lead, 60-56. Olympiacos tried for a two-pointer that Greer missed and Unicaja ran out the clock to join the first-place tie in Group A.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008