In a game in which neither team had anything to gain but momentum going into the Quarterfinal Playoffs, Tau Ceramica denied CSKA Moscow a perfect record in Top 16 Group F by winning their showdown 70-63 in Vitoria, Spain on Wednesday. CSKA finished in first place anyway at 5-1 while Tau ended 4-2 and second. Sergi Vidal led the winners with 16 points while Serkan Erdogan popped in 11, but the key to winning a close game was defense down the stretch. Tau held CSKA scoreless in the game's last 3 minutes, before which the visitors had led 62-63. Matjaz Smodis finished with 13 points for CSKA, while J.R. Holden added 11 and Sergei Panov 11.
Tau head coach Velimir Perasovic promised to give some rest to his starting five and he didn't lie, as Pablo Prigioni, Casey Jacobsen and Tiago Splitter saw the tipoff from the bench. Sergi Vidal and Serkan Erdogan took advantage of CSKA's slow start to give the hosts a 4-0 lead early. CSKA didn't need to do anything outside of adjusting their defense to stop Tau's drive and get ahead 6-7 with a three-pointer from Panov. Savrasenko extended the lead with a banked hook shot. That was followed by a free throw from Holden and a fastbreak dunk by Papaloukas that set the score at 6-12 after 6 minutes and forced Tau's first timeout. Lionel Chalmers replaced Roko Leni-Ukic as point guard for Tau, resulting in a quicker tempo that benefited the hosts. As such, a 6-2 run allowed Tau to come from behind and come within 12-14 of CSKA at the end of the first quarter.
Tau needed little time in the second quarter to tie again, 15-15, on a six-meter jumper by Chalmers, but David Vanterpool quickly answered with 4 points in a row to give the lead back to CSKA at 15-19. Defense prevailed over offense at that point, as both teams showed poor shooting and a slow ball movementl. Jacobsen then came up big with 2 three-point plays on baskets-plus-free throws to lift Tau in front by 24-23 and awaken the fans in the stands. The game changed as both teams began to run the court. Prigioni followed with a three-pointer to increase the Tau lead. Smodis answered with a dunk, but Jacobsen hit from downtown now on a fastbreak to extend the margin to 30-25 after 18 minutes. CSKA didn't panic and recovered intensity on defense, rallying as Panov took over with a triple and a layup in the last minute of the quarter to go in front again, 32-34 at the break.
CSKA took off after intermission with a 0-7 run capped by a three pointer from Smodis that boosted the guests' margin to 32-41 after 22 minutes. Tau called for a timeout and the break seemed to be pretty useful. Predrag Drobnjak, Vidal and Erdogan scored 2 points each to reduce the gap to 38-41 as CSKA spent three possessions in a row with last-second missed shots. Holden came to the rescue and nailed back-to-back three pointers and a layup that gave some air to CSKA with a 43-49 lead. Tau found an answer in Vidal, who hit a three-pointer and a fastbreak layup to reduce the gap to a single point at 48-49. Although Tomas Van den Spiegel responded under the boards for CSKA, Vidal kept rocking and followed a layup with another triple that gave a 53-51 lead for the hosts and stirred the fans. However, Vanterpool closed the quarter with a buzzer-beating jump shot for a new tie at 53-53.
Both teams showed that, even though nothing would change on Group G standings no matter the final score, they wanted to win the game. That resulted in very tough defenses, as if it were a decisive game for both. Scola took over for Tau early in the final quarter to give the hosts a 57-55 edge with 6 minutes to go, as CSKA found just a lonely jumper from Langdon so far in the period. CSKA coach Ettore Messina decided to put Alexey Savrasenko in the paint at that moment, and he proved decisive in slowin down Tau. Meanwhile, Langdon and Smodis hit back-to-back threes to end CSKA's drought and put the guests in front again, 62-63 with 3 minutes to go. Once again, Tau used a timeout to reboot. After it, Scola hit twice from the free throw line to regain the lead, as a flagrant foul called on Holden meant the beginning of the end for CSKA. The visitors remained scoreless for the last 3 minutes as Tau only needed to control the boards and draw fouls to launch a 6-0 run that ended CSKA's perfect record in Group G.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006