Tau Ceramica of Spain put CSKA's party on hold and gave its own Final Four aspirations a giant boost Thursday by invading Moscow for a commanding 73-90 road win that leaves the decision of who qualifies from Group H until the final week of the Top 16. With the victory, Tau assumes first place in the group at 4-1, while CSKA drops to 3-2. What's more, Tau managed to erase all the 14 points of difference that CSKA had won by when the teams first met in Spain. That means that in the event of a tie at the end of the round, Tau's position in terms of point difference is a lot better than before it got to Moscow. Tau literally stormed CSKA on Thursday, dominating the boards and taking full control of the game with a scorching 4-21 run to finish the third quarter. Luis Scola scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the second half and helped put the clamps on regular season MVP Mirsad Turkcan (7 points) throughout the game. Elmer Bennett added 19 points for the winners, and did the same defensive job on Curtis McCants (1 point). Dejan Tomasevic added 15 points, Andres Nocioni 12 and Laurent Foirest 11 for Tau. Gordan Giricek led CSKA with 26 points, Ruben Wolkowysky added 19 and Dimitri Domani 16.
Two unlikely protagonists got through the nervousness at the start of the game to get their teams up and running. Domani had 5 points for CSKA as it jumped ahead 10-6 after a few minutes. Just then, however, Fabricio Oberto of Tau scored on a three-point play, reverse layup and free throw, bringing him to 7 points and Tau within 10-9. Giricek followed with CSKA's first three-point shot, however, and then Turkcan neatly assisted Wolkowysky on a dunk for a 15-9 lead by the home team after 5 minutes. All was not well for CSKA, however, as Tau was routinely taking offensive rebounds already. Oberto and Tomasievic now scored inside as Tau started its comeback. Bennett, who had a couple offensive rebounds to that point himself and was keeping McCants from getting started, punctuated the quarter for Tau with a jumper in the lane. It was 18-17, CSKA still led, but Tau had its confidence.
CSKA seemed to regain the momentum with a Domani three-pointer that opened the second quarter, but that was a mirage. Tau immediately started to show signs of taking control, with Foirest scoring a quick 6 points to give Tau its first lead at 21-23. CSKA's key guys - Giricek, Turkcan and Wolkowysky - had a basket each to retake the lead at 23-27, but the next run belonged to Tau. Nocioni canned a three-pointer and then Tomasevic scored 5 consevutive points to put the visitors ahead 29-31. Apart from those three-pointers by Foirest and Nocioni, Tau was getting most of its points on the inside and was still taking offensive rebounds when needed. What's more, leading scorer Luis Scola had yet to put up a single point for Tau. After two baskets by Wolkowysky tied it 33-33, Scola got his first point, a free throw. He would hit another basket as would Bennett in the final 2 minutes before halftime to put the visitors in control at 33-39.
Both defenses were stingy in the first 5 minutes after halftime, as CSKA tried out a zone to close up the middle to Tau's big men. It seemed to work as Wolkowysky, with two baskets, and Giricek with a three-pointer got CSKA back within 41-45. It was another mirage. Scola and Nocioni were just getting hot and in the remaining 5 minutes of the third quarter, CSKA could not buy a basket against Tau's consistently active defense. The result was a 0-14 run that broke the game wide open for the visitors. Scola started and ended it with easy inside baskets, but it was back-to-back three-pointers from Nocioni and Bennett that seemed to demoralize CSKA. The real story was on the boards, however. Turkcan was neutralized by Tau's active big men, as was the whole CSKA frontcourt: Tau was enjoying, at that moment, an 11-26 advantage in rebounds. Giricek made a shot to stop CSKA's bleeding, but the lead was already at 15 points, 43-59, and Tau now added an 0-6 run to finish the quarter ahead 45-66. The most telling play might have been on Tau's last basket, as Nocioni blocked a Giricek three-point attempt and went in to dunk alone.
The fourth quarter quickly became a question of whether Tau could win on the road by as much as CSKA had done in Spain when they first met, 14 points, 73-87, in case the Group comes down to tiebreakers. Domani returned to lead this part of the fight for CSKA, driving and getting the line several times in the final minutes to draw his team within 70-82. But again, Tau proved to have the finishing touch on the quarter, as Bennett and Scola combined for a 3-8 finishing run to win the game 73-90 and to take what could be an all-important three-point difference in the two games against CSKA.
Wednesday, April 3, 2002