Top 16, Round 11: Playoffs race still wide open!
After the dust settled in a wild Top 16 Round 11, there was more resolution about who is not going to the playoffs than who is. Only one team - CSKA Moscow - punched its ticket to the next round week, joining Fenerbahce Istanbul. That leaves six open playoff berths with three games to play. After four teams were eliminated this week, the remaining spots will be decided among 10 teams in both groups now separated by no more than two victories. Put on your seatbelts for the rest of the Top 16!
After becoming first team to qualify last week, Fenerbahce Istanbul downed Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul 77-69 on Thursday to assure itself home-court advantage in the playoffs, and later found out that it clinched first place in the group, too. Fenerbahce extended its home winning streak to 18 games and improved its Top 16 record to 10-1, while Darussafaka dropped to 3-8 and is all-but mathematically eliminated from the playoff race. Darussafaka's 0-13 run that bridged first and second quarters put the visitors ahead 25-31, but Fenerbahce answered with a 14-0 run on the way to a 45-39 halftime advantage. The teams traded leads through the third quarter before Bogdan Bogdanovic made plays to put the hosts up for good and Luigi Datome scored 9 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to lead make sure of the victory. Ekpe Udoh had 18 points and 6 rebounds for Fenerbahce, which clinched first place later when Panathinaikos Athens rallied past Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar 84-77. Both teams now hold 7-4 records, but Lokomotiv still holds second place on point difference. It was the first win for Panathinaikos against Lokomotiv after three previous losses this season. Lokomotiv led most of the night and was up 64-71 in the fourth quarter when Panathinaikos put together a 10-3 spurt capped by a Nick Calathes triple. The Greens then poured on a 10-0 finishing run in which Elliot Williams scored 6 of his 16 points. James Gist also scored 16 and Dimitris Diamantidis added 15 points and 6 assists in victory. On Friday, Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade rallied from a 19-point third quarter deficit to beat Unicaja Malaga on the road 72-78 and join Panathinaikos and Lokomotiv at 7-4 in second place. Nemanja Nedovic paced Unicaja to a 49-30 margin shortly after halftime, but Marko Gudoric fueled Zvezda's first run, which cut the gap to 55-51 late in the third. Then Marko Simonovic hit 4 three-pointers during a 7-23 fourth quarter spurt as Zvezda opened 67-76 lead and never looked back. Stefan Jovic led Zvezda with 16 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds. Simonovic scored all his 12 points in the key fourth quarter run and Guduric also finished with 12 points. Nedovic finished with 22 points for Unicaja which was eliminated. Earlier on Friday, Anadolu Efes Istanbul edged Cedevita Zagreb 80-76 to keep its playoff hopes alive. Efes raised its record to 5-6 and will live to fight at least another week from fifth place, one below the playoff spots. Cedevita was eliminated as its record fell to 2-9. With Nemanja Gordic on fire early, the visitors staked double-digit leads in each half, but Thomas Heurtel paced several Efes comebacks. The teams traded leads until a Birkan Batuk triple with just over 2 minutes left put Efes ahead, and the hosts preserved the difference with perfect free throw shooting to the finish. Heurtel led Efes with 19 points and 6 assists.
In a battle for outright possession of first place, CSKA Moscow downed Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz 90-78 in the Russian capital on Thursday. CSKA improved to 8-3 and later in the evening became the group's first qualifier to the playoffs. Cory Higgins helped lead the CSKA charge in the first two quarters, opening a double-digit lead and 40-26 halftime margin. Laboral never went away, and came within 7 points in the third and in the fourth quarters, but Nando De Colo made sure CSKA's lead was never threatened and a late triple by Milos Teodosic secured for the hosts a tie-break advantage over Laboral, too. De Colo scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, and Higgins finished with 18 for CSKA, which clinched a playoff spot when FC Barcelona Lassa defeated archrivals Real Madrid 72-65 later in the Game of the Week. Both teams now have a 6-5 record, but Barcelona has the third-place edge over Madrid due to having beaten the reigning Euroleague champs twice in the Top 16. Barcelona stormed out of the gate to a 19-2 lead that ballooned to 31-6 margin. A 0-12 run helped the visitors get within 40-28 at halftime and a 3-22 spurt bridging the third and fourth quarters put Madrid in front 52-54. Madrid still led 63-64 in next-to-last minute on back-to-back dunk by Gustavo Ayon, but Stratos Perperoglou made key plays on the ensuing two possessions to secure Barcelona the victory. Perperoglou led Barcelona with 20 points, while Tomas Satoransky helped his team dominate early and finished with 17 points. Madrid got 16 points from Ayon. In a late Thursday game, Bradley Wanamaker scored 18 of his career-high 25 points in the final 5 minutes of the fourth quarter to rally Brose Baskets Bamberg past visiting Khimki Moscow Region 84-79. Both teams hold 5-6 records and share fifth place in the group now. Khimki, under new head coach Dusko Ivanovic, controlled things for most of the night, as Bamberg led only twice in the first 36 minutes. But the visitors never had led by more than 63-71 midway through the fourth quarter, which is when Wanamaker fueled a 13-0 run that gave Bamberg lead for good. He then single-handedly delivered Bamberg the victory by scoring team's final 13 points. Wanamaker also pulled down 7 rebounds and dished 5 assists, while Leon Raodosevic scored 18 points and Nikos Zisis, in his 250th Euroleague game, collected 16 and 8 assists. In the lone Friday game in this group, Olympiacos Piraeus cruised past Zalgiris Kaunas 74-59. Olympiacos improved to 5-6 for a share of fifth place, while Zalgiris dropped to 2-9 and is mathematically out of chances to make the playoffs. Georgios Printezis led the winners with 17 points and Kostas Papanikolaou added 11 for the Reds, who took the lead for good in the second quarter and led 39-30 at halftime. After the break, back-to-back three-pointers by Ioannis Papapetrou and Printezis opened 53-35 margin, and the hosts cruised the rest of the way.
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