Tau Ceramica took a major step toward reaching its first-ever Final Four as it overwhelming Benetton 59-98 on the road in Treviso, Italy in Game 1 of their best-of-three quarterfinals series on Tuesday. With one of the biggest wins at this stage of the season in European playoff basketball history, Tau takes a 1-0 lead in the series. It can qualify for the Final Four with a victory in Game 2 at home in Vitoria on Thursday. Benetton, meanwhile, faces a do-or-die situation, needing beat Tau on the road to force a third game back in Treviso a week later. Luis Scola had an amazing performance for Tau, scoring 34 points on 15-for-16 two-point and 4-for-4 free-throw shooting. Scola's two-point accuracy, 94%, set a new one-game Euroleague record. And he wasn't alone. Arvydas Macijauskas added 21 points, 19 as Tau broke the game open in the third quarter, while Jose Manuel Calderon had 12. Tau was near-perfect, making 32 of 46 two-pointers and 16 of 16 free throws, as well as outrebounding Benetton 41-18. Marlon Garnett had 13 points for Benetton, while Marcus Goree added 11.
Macijauskas assisted Scola to open the scoring, and when the guests were ahead 0-4 after almost 3 minutes, Benetton needed a timeout. Denis Marconato broke the ice for the hosts with a turnaround jumper, but Scola was not to be stopped by any defense as he poured in 6 points in a row to raise the cushion to 4-10. Halfway through the quarter, Marcus Goree chipped in the first three-point shot, while Scola pushed his own total into double digits and Tau's lead to11-16. Goree now tied the score, 16-16, with a jumper from mid-range that capped a 5-0 run for the hosts. But after Massimo Bulleri turned over a pair of balls, Pablo Prigioni rattled in an open triple and downed a couple free throws to send Tau ahead 19-27 after 10 minutes.
Andrea Bargnani lifted Benetton with a strike from downtown basket to open the second quarter, but Tau still dominated in the paint with Scola scoring more to push the margin into double figures, at 22-33. Nobody could stop him, despite another Benetton timeout, with the score at 26-37 after 14 minutes. Calderon drove to the basket to make it 26-41 and Benetton continued to have problems against the tough Tau defense. Scola finally sat down with fouls trouble after posting 24 points in just 16 minutes. Now, Benetton found Joey Beard in the paint for an easy bucket, but Calderon scored his third layup in a row as Tau maintained a 38-49 lead at the break.
Macijauskas, after scoring just a couple points in the first half, came out hot for the third quarter, with two- and three-point strikes from the same corner to send Tau up 41-54. Scola was back, too, and scored from the mid-range before Marconato answered by converting and offensive rebound. Benetton tried a 2-3 zone defense, but Tau forced the hosts to play far from the paint and Scola ran the floor to find easy points assisted by Calderon. The lead lengthened to 44-60 midway through the quarter. Now, Macijauskas couldn't be stopped, scoring 10 points in a 5-20 run capped by Tiago Splitter that put Tau's a margin over 20 points, 46-71, after 27 minutes. Macijauskas wasn't done, however, and buried 2 more shots from long distance to send Tau soaring at 52-79 at the end of the quarter.
Benetton was unable to go over its frustration beginning the last quarter when Vidal and Scola made two dunks to extend Tau's advantage to 31 points, 52-83. Benetton could not buy a point now and minute-by-minute, the difference kept growing. Vidal scored underneath as Tau kept going toward what would become an astounding margin of victory for a playoff game. Benetton scored just one point in the first 7 minutes of the final quarter, as even its players on the court looked to be resting for Thursday's rematch. The final margin of 39 will become a measuring stick for the new quarterfinals round, especially when it comes to road wins, but for now the tangible part of Tau's performance was just a 1-0 edge as it goes home to Vitoria on Thursday.
Tuesday, April 5, 2005