Regal FC Barcelona stunned Tau Ceramica 63-84 Thursday on the road at the Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain, to tie their best-of-five Quarterfinal Playoffs series at 2-2 and force a fifth and deciding game in Barcelona next week. Barcelona started the third quarter with a 0-10 run, finished it with an 0-11 charge and scored a playoff record 30 overall in the period as the visitors took control and never looked back. Jaka Lakovic led Barcelona with 15 points and 5 assists, while Juan Carlos Navarro, who missed game 3 with a leg injury, started and recorded 11 points and 4 assists. Ginaluca Basile had 13 points. That guard trio combined for 9 three-pointers for Barca. David Andersen and Ersan Ilyasova scored 11 each and helped inside as the visiots outrebounded Tau 26-38. League-leadign scorer Igor Rakocevic paced Tau with 21 points and 4 assists. Pete Mickeal added 14 points and Tiago Splitter had 12 in defeat.
Basile opened fire with a huge three and followed it with a step-back jumper for an early 2-5 Barca lead, as the visitors used a zone defense to protect the paint. The hosts struggled on offense, as only Rakocevic was able to produce. Even though Navarro didn’t score, he created space for his teammates Lakovic and Fran Vazquez, who maintained a 5-9 edge for Barcelona after four minutes. But when Splitter joined the game, Tau seemed to react and tied the score at 11-11 with three minutes to go behind two of his buckets. Although Lakovic put Barcelona ahead with a three pointer, Rakocevic came to the rescue and gave Tau its first lead hitting back-to back triples for a 19-16 edge entering the last minute. One free throw by Andersen closed the first period with a 19-17 Tau lead.
Rakocevic remained hot after the break, hitting his fourth triple and extending Tau’s margin to 23-17. Barcelona reacted quickly, bringing Navarro back into the game to guard Pablo Prigioni, as Victor Sada matched up with Rakocevic. Ilyasova took over inside, but found an immediate answer from Will McDonald as Tau retained the lead. Rakocevic headed the bench for a breather while Ilyasova and Navarro provided back-to-back layups that forced an urgent timeout by Tau head coach Dusko Ivanovic in an attempt to find the right answer against Barcelona’s defensive switching scheme. But Tau looked dizzy without Rakocevic on court, which was exploited by Lakovic and Ilyasova to make it a 1-point game midway through the second period. The game turned into an exciting showdown, as every move by each team was immediately responded by the other. Tau tried to pick up the pace, but Barcelona prevented the hosts from escaping thanks to Ilyasova and Lakovic, who tied the game 35-35 with two minutes to go in the half. Rakocevic and Mickeal stepped up at that point, combining for 6 points that restored a 6-point Tau margin entering the last minute. Barcelona didn’t panic though, as a three by Lakovic and a buzzer-beating tip-in by Ilyasova sent the game to halftime at 41-40.
Barcelona showed up strong after intermission. Basile hit his third triple on the first possession and Vazquez added 4 in a row as Tau called timeout. But the drought continued for the hosts, as Navarro beat the shot-clock buzzer with three right after that for a 41-50 Barcelona lead. Splitter finished the nightmare with a layup, but he missed 3 free throws in a row that prevented Tau from getting back to the game. Lakovic punished Tau with another three for a double-digit margin, 43-53. Barcelona found what it needed, a comfortable margin that allowed its players to decide whether to run or not, taking over the flow of the game. Navarro came up big then, hitting back-to-back triples to extend the gap even more, as Daniel Santiago set the score at 47-61 with a jumper. Rakocevic showed up then, hitting 3 consecutive free throws, followed by Mickeal who brought Tau within 54-61 with two minutes to go in the period. The comeback ended thanks to Andersen, who sparked a 0-9 run of his own by hitting a turnaround jumper, a triple, a couple of free throws and a buzzer-beating hook shot to give Barcelona a 54-70 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Both teams remained scoreless for the first three minutes, which benefited Barcelona the most. Although guests were unable to hit their shots, offensive rebounding allowed several second-chance offenses that grinded the gears of Tau. Barcelona started playing long possessions, looking for smooth ball circulation and taking last-second shots. Roger Grimau added 4 in a row to make it a 20-point lead, 54-74, with less than six minutes to go. Tau was totally shocked, unable to find answers neither in offense nor in defense. Teletovic ended a six-minute scoring drought with a single free throw, followed by a hook shot by Splitter that reduced difference to 57-74, but it was too late to believe in a comeback. With the outcome in no doubt for the guests, Barcelona spent the last minutes avoiding big risks and waiting for the clock to end. Even though Tau got a few opportunities to make the margin smaller, nerves, exhaustion and anxiety prevented the hosts even from getting a less painful disadvantage. A monster dunk by Vazquez capped an extraordinary second half for Barcelona, who sent the playoff series back to Barcelona for a do-or-die Game 5.
Thursday, April 2, 2009