Round 28: Efes clinches top-four finish
The race for first place got tighter and the one for last playoffs spots became absolutely too close to call in a thrilling Round 28 that featured first-time accomplishments and life-saving wins. In the former category, Anadolu Efes Istanbul clinched home-court advantage for the first time in the EuroLeague Playoffs with a big road victory. In the latter, FC Bayern Munich, Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv and Zalgiris Kaunas all faced elimination when the round started, but finished it just one win away from the last playoffs spot with two games left to play. KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens were even bigger winners, however, moving into sixth and seventh place with 15 wins, one more than the pack of five pursuers behind them. All sorts of possibilities remain for the last two rounds of the regular season!
CSKA Moscow 70-68 Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul
CSKA Moscow outlasted Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul 70-68 on Thursday in a thrilling matchup between the teams with the best two records in the EuroLeague. Despite the loss, Fenerbache remained atop the standings at 23-5, while CSKA climbed within 22-6. The game was a clash between the team with the best offense in the league, CSKA, and the best defense in the league, Fenerbache, and it met expectations with two lead changes and four ties in the fourth quarter alone. Will Clyburn paced the winners with 16 points and 8 rebounds and Cory Higgins added 15 points; they combined for 14 of CSKA's 18 points in the fourth quarter. Nikola Kalinic posted 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, Ali Muhammed scored 15 points and Jan Vesely had 10 in defeat. Despite the loss, Fenerbache salvaged the head-to-head tiebreaker versus CSKA with a layup at the buzzer.
Buducnost VOLI Podgorica 84-91 Anadolu Efes Istanbul
Anadolu Efes Istanbul secured a top-four finish and home-court advantage in the playoffs by claiming a road victory at Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, which was more comfortable than the 84-91 scoreline suggests. Efes started strong to lead by 18 in the first half, increased that beyond 20 in the third quarter and was never seriously troubled despite a late rally from Buducnost. The Turkish side dominated inside as Tibor Pleiss scored 16 points and Bryant Dunston added 14, while Vasilije Micic tallied a8 points and 6 assists and Kruno Simon 13 points and 5 assists to lead the backcourt. Edwin Jackson scored 17 points for Buducnost, while Goga Bitadze combined 16 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Efes secured fourth place with an 18-10 record, two wins ahead of fifth-placed Barcelona and with the head to head advantage, while Buducnost has now lost eight in a row to slip to 6-22.
FC Bayern Munich 73-71 FC Barcelona Lassa
In an intense battle that came down to the final shot, FC Bayern Munich stayed in the fight to reach the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs by edging FC Barcelona Lassa 73-71 at Audi Dome on Thursday. Petteri Koponen became the game hero by hitting the game-winning shot at the buzzer and lifting Bayern's record to 13-15 – and one win outside the playoff zone. Barcelona, which had qualified for the playoffs on Wednesday, slipped to 16-12, but remained fifth overall. Koponen and Devin Booker led the winners with 14 points apiece, Derrick Williams added 11 and Stefan Jovic had 10 for Bayern. Ante Tomic and Thomas Heurtel paced Barcelona with 13 points apiece, Chris Singleton added 12 and Pau Ribas and Jaka Blazic each scored 10 for the visitors. Chris Singleton and Pau Ribas shined early to put Barcelona ahead, 18-19, after 10 minutes. Singleton kept pacing Barcelona and got help from Jaka Blazic to boost the visitors' lead to 32-36 at halftime. Barcelona led by 49-56 at the end of the third quarter and then again to 51-63 with 7 minutes left. A 14-0 run that Koponen capped with a triple gave Bayern a 65-63 lead. The game turned into a thriller when free throws by Heurtel and Blazic tied the game at 71-71 with 6 seconds left. Bayern had no timeouts, but Koponen brought the ball up, stopped and hit a mid-range jumper at the buzzer.
Herbalife Gran Canaria 90-67 Olympiacos Piraeus
Herbalife Gran Canaria played the role of a spoiler to perfection, leading from start to finish in a rout of visiting Olympiacos Piraeus 90-67 on Thursday night. It was the final EuroLeague home game for Gran Canaria, which delighted its fans and improved to 8-20 and 14th place in the standings. Olympiacos, in the midst of the EuroLeague's tightest-ever playoff race, dropped to 14-14. Marcus Eriksson led the hosts by scoring 24 points on 6-for-10 three-point shooting. Siim-Sander Vene added 14 points in 16 minutes and D.J. Strawberry scored 13 in the victory. Briante Weber scored 13 and Axel Toupane had 12 points in the losing effort.
Khimki Moscow Region 71-76 Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv recovered from a slow start to keep its playoffs dreams alive with a hard-earned 71-76 victory at Khimki Moscow Region. The host was dominant early on and led by 14 in the first quarter, but Maccabi soon got to grips with the game and controlled the final three quarters. The Israeli side was powered by a double-double from Johnny O’Bryant, 16 points and 11 rebounds. Michael Roll top scored with 17 points on 5-of-7 three-point shooting, and Angelo Caloiaro combined 13 points with 9 rebounds. Jeremy Pargo added 12 points. Alexey Shved scored 17 points for Khimki but only made 5-of-20 field goal attempts. Jordan Mickey scored 14, and Malcolm Thomas paired 12 points with 8 rebounds. Maccabi is now 13-15, just one win short of the playoffs places with two games remaining.
Zalgiris Kaunas 94-67 Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul
Zalgiris Kaunas, needing to win its last home game to keep pace in the playoffs race, delivered its fans a beauty on Friday, thrashing Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul by 94-67 for the team's fourth win in a row. The victory lifted Zalgiris to a 13-15 record, a win removed from the playoff places, to continue to put pressure on the teams ahead in the standings. Darussafaka fell to 4-24, but came out stronger and was ahead by 4-11 early. Zalgiris awoke late in the first quarter, added a 13-0 run to open the second, and never looked back on the way to victory. Darussafaka never really threatened beyond that point. Zalgiris had five scores in double digits, led by Brandon Davies with 13 points, 5 rebounds and a pair of steals. Deon Thompson, Nate Wolters and Arturas Milaknis finished with 12 points apiece while Marius Grigonis had 11. Darussafaka's Jeremy Evans finished as their top scorer with 14 points, while Muhammed Baygul landed 11.
KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz 86-76 Real Madrid
KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz used a huge night on the boards by its big men to claim an important 86-76 victory over fellow Spanish rival Real Madrid on Friday night. The victory improves Baskonia to a 15-13 record in sixth place, while Madrid, which has already secured home-court advantage in the playoffs, drops to 21-7 in third place. Baskonia took the lead for good in the opening stages, but could not put the game away until the final minute. Vincent Poirier dominated with 19 points plus a career-high 16 rebounds, including 9 offensive rebounds. His frontcourt mate Johannes Voigtmann had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Luca Vildoza led all the scorers with 20 points. Trey Thompkins scored 17 for Madrid, and Jaycee Carroll added 16.
AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan 83-95 Panathinaikos OPAP Athens
Panathinaikos OPAP Athens picked up a crucial victory in the race for the playoffs as it went to Italy and came home with an 83-95 victory over AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan in extending its winning streak to six games. Panathinaikos turned the game around at the Palabancodesio with a 0-13 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. Nick Calathes was exquisite with 27 points, 8 rebounds, 14 assists and 2 steals for a performance index rating of 39. Keith Langford added 17 points, Deshaun Thomas collected 15 points, James Gist 12 and Sean Kilpatrick had 11 points as Panathinaikos improved to 15-13, also grabbing the head-to-head advantage over Milan, which dropped to 14-14. Mindaugas Kuzminskas led Milan with 17 points, but had just 5 of them in the second half, while Mike James picked up 16 points but had foul trouble and committed 6 turnovers. James Nunnally scored 12 points and Vladimir Micov 11 in the loss.