Game Center, Round 23: The gates to the playoffs are open
The gates to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs were busted open by CSKA Moscow on Thursday night with its home victory over Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz. Olympiacos Piraeus and Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul also won and can dream of clinching playoff berths as soon as next week. Among Friday highlights will be a meeting between the winners of the Turkish and Lithuanian Cups, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Zalgiris Kaunas, and the last game of the round will be another Clasico plus a rematch from Sunday’s Copa del Rey final: FC Barcelona Lassa versus Real Madrid.
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 vs Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens
A big battle between two teams with sights set on securing home-court advantage in the playoffs features a fascinating duel between two of this season’s outstanding individual performers, Alexey Shved and Nick Calathes. But there’s far more to this game than just two players, with Khimki (13-9) claiming four wins in its last five largely thanks to outstanding defense, allowing an average of just 66 points per game in those victories. Panathinaikos (14-8) has stuttered recently, losing three consecutive games on the road, but has welcomed back Mike James to add another spark for the remainder of the campaign.
Anadolu Efes Istanbul vs Zalgiris Kaunas
After losing its last three away games, Zalgiris (13-9) will look to get back on track against an Efes (6-16) team thar is placed bottom of the standings, but has won three of its last four in Istanbul. Both teams are in good spirits following domestic cup triumphs on Sunday. Zalgiris has been a far more efficient offensive force, converting 54.8% of two-point attempts and 41% of three-pointers compared to the respective totals of 49.4% and 34.3% for Efes. And the home team will have to be particularly wary of the threat posed by visiting guard Kevin Pangos, who ranks third in the league in both three-pointers made (2.3 per game) and assists (6.2 per game).
Brose Bamberg vs Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade
These two teams could be visiting the last-chance saloon in the race for the playoffs as Brose (8-14) aims to climb level in the standings with Zvezda (9-13). The German champion has won its last two home games against tough opposition, Panathinaikos and Zalgiris, while Zvezda has suffered three straight road losses. It could well be a shoot-out, with Brose scoring 93 and 95 points in those two wins, while three of Zvezda’s last six contests have seen one of the teams reach 100 points. Sharing the ball could be crucial – the teams rank third-last (Zvezda 15.9 apg) and next-to-last (Brose 15.4 apg) in assists.
FC Barcelona Lassa vs Real Madrid
Barcelona (7-15) welcomes Madrid (13-9) under new leadership following the return of coaching veteran Svetislav Pesic to the bench. Madrid has enjoyed the better of recent EuroLeague Clasicos, winning three in a row including a crushing 63-102 road victory last season, however Barca edged Madrid in the Spanish Cup final on Sunday. Nobody has registered more assists this season than Barcelona (20.6 per game), but Madrid has the second-best team average performance index rating (99.6) on the back of Luka Doncic’s 17.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Barcelona’s ability to stop the boy wonder could be decisive to the outcome in this one.