Game Center, Round 23: The playoffs plot thickens
In the first game of Round 23, CSKA made itself the first playoffs team, and before Thursday was finished, both Olympiacos and Fenerbahce were solidly in line to qualify next. But after that, four teams are now tied on 14 victories – all intent on finishing fourth or better – while two others got closer to the eighth and final playoff spot, promising a lot of drama ahead.
CSKA Moscow 93-86 Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz
CSKA Moscow became the first team to clinch a spot in the 2018 EuroLeague Playoffs by beating Baskonia 93-86 in the Round 23 opener. The hosts turned up the heat on defense in the fourth quarter to register the come-from-behind victory at Megasport Arena. The win lifted CSKA’s league-best record to 18-5, while ninth-placed Baskonia slipped to 10-13. Baskonia led for much of the game, but CSKA tied the score at 71-71 through three quarters and opened the fourth on a 12-2 tear. Cory Higgins shined with 10 fourth-quarter points as CSKA went on to lead by as many as 15 and held on for the victory. Will Clyburn led the winners with 19 points. Jayson Granger scored 26 points on 6-of-7 three-point shooting for Baskonia.
Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul 89-70 AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan
Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul registered its fifth consecutive home victory and seventh win in last eight games with an 89-70 triumph over visiting AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan on Thursday. Fenerbahce improved to 16-7, which is the second best record in the competition, while Milan fell to 7-16. Fenerbahce used a 19-4 second-quarter run to open a 20-point lead. Milan briefly cut the deficit to single digits at the start of the third quarter, but Fenerbahce quickly restored a big margin and never looked back. Jason Thompson paced the winners with 15 points and James Nunnally made his return from injury with 11 points. Vladimir Micov scored 19 for Milan.
Olympiacos Piraeus 80-70 Valencia Basket
Olympiacos Piraeus led from start to finish on the back of a Vassilis Spanoulis masterclass to overcome Valencia Basket 80-70 at Peace and Friendship Stadium. The visiting team twice fought back from double-digit deficits and trailed by just 1 point midway through the final quarter, but every time Olympiacos appeared to be in trouble, Spanoulis came back into the action to spearhead another charge. The 35 year-old combined 25 points with 9 assists, with many of those dishes allowing Nikola Milutinov to register 15 points. It was the seventh home win in a row for the Reds, who improved to 16-7 for a share of second place. Valencia, which dropped to 8-15, was paced by 19 points from Fernando San Emeterio.
Unicaja Malaga 83-69 Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
Unicaja Malaga registered its second consecutive win by downing Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv 83-69 at home on Thursday. Unicaja improved to 10-13 for a share of ninth place in the regular season standings and dropped eighth-place Maccabi to 12-11. Nemanja Nedovic led the winners with 15 points and 5 assists and Ray McCallum added 14 points. DeAndre Kane paced Maccabi with 15 points. Dragan Milosavljevic scored 7 points in a 12-0 run that put Unicaja ahead for good, 54-45, midway through the third quarter. Unicaja held a 60-55 edge after 30 minutes and extended it to 71-60 midway through the fourth quarter to cruise to an important win. Unicaja head coach Joan Plaza was honored in a pre-game ceremony. He set a club record in this game by coaching his 302nd game with Unicaja.
Khimki Moscow Region 78-61 Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens
Khimki Moscow Region confirmed its great form and improved its playoffs chances by downing Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens 78-61 at home on Friday. Khimki registered its fifth win in the last six games. Both teams now have 14-9 records in the 30-game regular season and share fourth place on victories. Alexey Shved led the winners with 20 points. Anthony Gill added 16. Chris Singleton had 14 points to lead Panathinaikos. An outstanding second quarter, in which Khimki pulled down 13 rebounds and only allowed Panathinaikos to score one field goal, allowed the hosts to get a 46-31 margin at halftime. Nothing changed after the break, as Khimki boosted its margin to 55-35 late in the third quarter, kept a 63-46 margin after 30 minutes on a midcourt shot by Gill, and cruised to an important home win.
Anadolu Efes Istanbul 70-86 Zalgiris Kaunas
Zalgiris pushed itself closer to a historic playoffs qualification by downing host Efes by 70-86 on Friday. Its fifth road win pushed Zalgiris to a 14-9 record, tied on victories for fourth place. After the first quarter, Zalgiris took charge little by little until going up 61-81 midway through the fourth and cruising from there. Aaron White was perfect for Zalgiris with 6 of 6 two-point shooting and 3 of 3 free throws for 15 points. Brandon Davies added 12 points, Vasilije Micic and Arturas Milaknis 11 each, and Kevin Pangos 10 for the winners, while Errick McCollum scored 14 for Efes, whose last-place record fell to 6-17.
Brose Bamberg 86-62 Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade
Brose tied a club-record 14 three-pointers in an 86-62 rout of the visiting Zvezda on Friday night. Brose registered its largest win in the past two seasons, and in the process swept Zvezda, as both teams now hold 9-14 records. The hosts took the lead for good in the second quarter, which they finished with a 10-1 run to open 46-36 advantage. They then used a 17-3 third-quarter spurt to break the game open. Dorell Wright shined with 21 points, making 5 of 7 triples, grabbing 9 rebounds and dished 4 assists, while Dejan Musli amassed 13 points and 13 rebounds in victory.
FC Barcelona Lassa 74-101 Real Madrid
Madrid got back on the winning track by downing archrivals Barcelona in blowout fashion, 74-101, on the road on Friday. Madrid took its record to 14-9, the same as Khimki, Panathinaikos and Zalgiris, all of them competing for fourth place at the moment. Barcelona dropped to 7-16 with its fourth consecutive loss. Jaycee Carroll led six Madrid scorers in double digits with 18 points. He downed 10 in the first 8 minutes and then Gustavo Ayon's three-point play made it a 20-point game, 10-30. Nothing changed after that, as Madrid kept a safe margin throughout the game, going up 62-92 eventually to seal the outcome long before the final buzzer.