After three consecutive losses had put its reputation, if not its future, in jeapordy, Real Madrid took the high road into the Top 16 on Thursday when it invaded Athens and stole off with a somewhat surprising 77-78 Group C. The victory let Madrid cap its season at 9-5 and stay out of the potential ties and tiebreakers below by finishing second exclusively, the same position it held most of the season. Panathinaikos had long clinched first place, but the loss dropped it to 12-2, so it ended up tied with Kinder Bologna of Group B for the best record overall. It also lost an 18-game winning streak between the Euroleague and the Greek League that had lasted since early November. Sasha Djordjevic led the way with 18 points for Madrid, while Lucio Angulo added 14 and some fine perimeter defense. Madrid joins Kinder Bologna, Ural Great and Efes Pilsen in Group F of the Top 16. Panathinaikos, the Group G leader, will be joined by AEK of Athens, Olympiakos and Union Olimpija.
Real Madrid may have lost six of the previous seven games to Panathinaikos, but its first half in Athens was magnificent! Former Olympiakos players Dusan Vuksevic (10 points) and Dragan Tarlac (8) joined up with Sasha Djordjevic (8) to earn a 17-point first-half lead for Madrid, which played an incredible offensive game against the Greek Champs and Group C leaders. The first quarter was pretty close, with Madrid finishing up with just a four-point lead, 20-24. In the second period, the Spaniards of Sergio Scarriolo took complete control of the game, playing aggressively on offense and getting to the foulline again and again. The score was 29-46 just 2 minutes before the halftime break, but the Greens seemed to wake up just in time, since they managed to cut the deficit to 13 points, 38-51, going into the lockerroom. Dejan Bodiroga scored 11 points, while Pepe Santchez added 7 points and Frangiskos Alvertis 6 for Panathinaikos, whose performance was putting their 18-game winning streak in the Euroleague and the Greek League in jeapordy.
In the third period Real Madrid continued to damage the Panathinaikos defense, as the lead lengthened to 40-58 due to Djordjevic¿s three-pointer early on. The only time that the Greeks managed to come closer was 5 minutes before the end of third quarter, cutting the deficit to 11, at 51-62, on an Alvertis three-pointer and fastbreaks by Giorgos Kalaitzis. The reason that Real escaped with another 18-point gap was its strength under the boards. Eric Struelens improved his scoring contribution to 15 points (8 in the third period), while Tarlac won many fights against sleepy Lazaros Papadopoulos. The score was 59-72 after 30 minutes and the only conclusion was that the Spaniards had bigger desire to win than the Greeks.
So in the last period, in front of the hot Greek crowd, who were shouting against Tarlac and Vuksevic any time they touched the ball, Real did what was necessary to win a very important road game. In on of his favorite arenas on St Valentine¿s day, Djordjevic led Real¿s orchestra in a marvellous way. He finished the game with 18 points, while Lucio Angulo added 14 points and good defense. The final score of 77-88 was a great "bravo" for Real, which interrupted Panathinaikos 17-0 winning streak. The last time, that the Greens became dangerous was 4 minutes before the end, when they cut the deficit to 10 points, but the Spaniards deserved to win and so they did.
Thursday, February 14, 2002