In a thriller that was everything the experts expected, Barcelona sent a whole city to celebrating on Friday by beating CSKA Moscow 76-71 to join Benetton Treviso in the Euroleague title game on Sunday. A Final Four record crowd of 16,670 hit the roof at Palau Sant Jordi when Juan Carlos Navarro made the open-court steal and fastbreak layup with 17 seconds left to give Barca a six-point lead and seal the outcome. CSKA had led by two early in the final quarter, but a pair of three-point plays by Gregor Fucka put then ahead for good with 3 minutes, 23 seconds left. Fucka led the winners with 21 points, while J.R. Holden poured in the same for CSKA. Thus ended an all-out battle that saw a dozen changes in the scoreboard and an atmosphere of high drama throughout.
Despite an opening basket inside by Gregor Fucka, CSKA managed to quiet the crowd a bit as Holden opened the scoring with a three-pointer. That triggered an 0-11 CSKA run in which great moves by Nikos Hatzivrettas added 5 points and a triple by Victor Khryapa punctuated it. Barca went to its aces to start a comeback that was already based on all the early fouls CSKA was taking. Bodiroga and Jasikevicius made 3 of 4 at the line, but Holden and Alexander answered with baskets for 5-15. A Fucka tip-in and a Bodiroga scored his first basket. Still, however, holding was not to be denied, and his two baskets had CSKA up 11-19 with under 3 minutes left in the quarter. Bodiroga went back to the line for 4 shots and hit them all before Alexander Bashminov hit CSKA's last field goal of the quarter. Anderson Varejao was now on the court for Barca, grabbing rebounds and hitting a jumper. Then another reserve, Nacho Rodriguez, buried Barca's first triple to pull the locals within 20-21. A pair of Holden free throws finished up the quarter with CSKA in charge 21-25.
Team captain Rodrigo De la Fuente started Barcelona's takeowver of the scoreboard with a triple to christen the second quarter. After Darius Songaila made his first shot for CSKA, Fucka hit a jumper. De la Fuente got to the line to put Barca in the lead 28-27, then added a bucket on the offensive glass to the lead. CSKA wasn't ready to give up that lead, however. Victor Alexander dropped a turnaround jumper over Fucka, then Sergei Monya and Darious Songaila stuck in back-to-back three-pointers as CSKA regained a comfort zone at 30-35. It was not to last. Fouls put Barca back on the line again and again, and 9 of 10 went down to allow Barca to take a 39-37 lead. That's when unsung Patrick Femerling got loose under the rim for a dunk and fastbreak finish. completing a 12-0 run to a 43-37 edge. Juan Carlos Navarro would throw in his own basket as Barca hit the locker room with a 45-38 halftime advantage.
As quickly as Barca turned things around in the first half, CSKA did so after the break. Although a Fucka cut to the basket for a three-point play and a Bodiroga back-door layup for two gave Barcelona its highest lead at 50-41 early in the third quarter, CSKA was loading up for a comeback. Darius Songaila led it with lots of hustle under the basket. Then Alexander and Holden joined in. It was still 55-47 Barca, however, as Fucka came up with another big shot and Sarunas Jasikevicius struck from behind the arc midway through the quarter. But from there to the end, it was all CSKA, making a 2-13 run. Holden scored 5 in a row, Songaila hit another shot and Alexander warmed up his mid-range jumper. After two free throws by Navarro, Holden scored after a big offensive rebound. And on the last play of the quarter, Alexander lofted another shot over Dueñas for a 57-60 CSKA lead.
Barca started the final quarter with a huge three-pointer off the hand of Nacho Rodriguez to tie the game and get the crowd right back into it. The lead went back and forth with a Holden foul shot, a patented up-and-under move by Bodiroga and a bomb from the arc by Victor Khryapa. The young Russian sensation then went down the other end and blocked Bodiroga's next attempt, but CSKA could not capitalize on offense. Next, with 5 minutes, 38 seconds left, Fucka found himself alone on the arc and did not disappoint the crowd. His shot fell for a 65-64 Barca lead. Two full minutes then passes with turnovers, fouls and misses before Fucka made a basket cut and Jasikevicius saw him free. Fucka's shot went down, the whistle blew and he dropped the free throw, too, for a 68-64 Barca lead. Songaila got 2 of those points back for CSKA at the free throw line. Jasikevicius ran off a pick and hit a jumper for Barca. Then Alexander put back a rebound of his own shot as the scoreboard read 70-68 and the drama grew with under 2 minutes to play. A Jasikevicius miss gave CSKA a chance to tie, but Songaila could not knock down an open jumper just under the one-minute mark. CSKA fouled Bodiroga, who made 2 free throws. A Songaila drive failed for CSKA but it kept the ball. On the inbounds play, Navarro flew out of the pack, made the steal and didn't stop running until he had a fastbreak layup and the crowd dancing in the aisles. Only 22 seconds remained and Barca was ahead 74-68, but after a timeout, CSKA got what it wanted seconds later on a drive-plus-foul shot by Hatzivrettas. CSKA tried to press but had to foul Bodiroga, who once again was golden from the line for 76-71. CSKA got two three-point attempts to finish, but neither fell and Barcelona was already holding its breath for the big final on Sunday.
Friday, May 9, 2003