Paf Bologna knew exactly what it was doing when it signed veteran center Stojan Vrankovic little more than a month ago. It was guaranteeing itself a victory somewhere down the road, when success would seem out of reach for anyone but the Croatian veteran with the tremendous wingspan and shot blocking instincts. That elusive but essential victory, won on the strength of Vrankovic's incredible total of 10 blocked shots, came Thursday night by 74-75 in overtime at Cibona, Zagreb in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series. The victory, snatched by Vrancovic from the jaws of defeat, earned Paf a trip to the quarterfinals against Real Madrid. But as much as Vrankovic's blocks intimidated and ultimately reduced Cibona to defeat, Carlton Myers saved the result with a block of his own. He tipped Josip Sesar's three-point attempt to win the game at the buzzer in overtime. The ball hit the backboard and Paf was home free despite missing its MVP, Gregor Fucka, who was at home in Bologna with an injury.
Cibona had led twice by 8 points, in the second and third quarters, and by 9 with only 6 minutes left in regulation time. But it was not enough, just as a similar lead in Game 1 was erased when Cibona failed to score field goal in the final 7 minutes of play. This time, the choice of a zone defense didn't stop Paf's comeback, while Vrankovic had a lot to do with the lack of an offensive response from Cibona.
Shooting through Vrankovic was like shooting through a windmill for the Cibona players. The 38-year-old Croatian blocked 4 of Tunji Awojobi's shots, 3 of Matjaz Skelin's and 2 of Sesar's, including one at the end of regulation and one in overtime when Cibona had opportunities to take the lead. There is no telling how many more shots Vrankovic intimidated, or how many were simply not taken or passed back outside for fear of confronting him.
Sesar led all scorers with 27 points, but again his shot selection hurt his team. He finished 6 of 15 on two-pointers, 4 of 18 on threes and 3 of 8 from the foulline. Worst of all, he ignored an open teammate in the corner and had a reverse layup blocked easily by Vrankovic in the final minute of overtime. Sesar finished the series 17 of of 60 from the field (28 percent). For the winners, Vrankovic also pulled down 15 rebounds and only lacked a foul shot for 10 points and a triple-double in 40 minutes work. Myers poured in 26 points to top Paf and Anthony Bowie added 15.
Cibona, which had also led Paf in the fourth quarter of Game 1, finished the series without seeing a minute in Game 2 from injured starters Gordan Giricek or Nikola Prkacin. The loss was Cibona's seventh straight in Euroleague play and left it as the only playoff team from regular season Group B not to make it to the quarterfinals.
Thursday, February 08, 2001