CSKA Moscow is back in the Euroleague title game! The defending champs overcame Unicaja 62-50 Friday evening in the first semifinal of the 2007 Euroleague Final Four at Athens Olympic Indoor Hall in the Greek capital. David Andersen had 12 points and 9 rebounds and Theodoros Papaloukas scored 11, dished 4 assists and had 5 big steals to lead CSKA. Unicaja gave a valiant effort and held the lead with 7-and-a-half minutes remaining, but a 14-0 CSKA run knocked out the Spanish champs, who were unable to recover in time. Unicaja had already been forced to come back earlier in the game. After a Marcus Faison slam knotted the game at 24-24, CSKA held Unicaja scoreless for the final 4 minutes of the second period, during which it reeled off 9 unanswered points to take a 33-24 halftime lead. But Carlos Cabezas led Unicaja back at the start of the third period and a thriller ensued, with the score knotted at 44-44 after 30 minutes. But CSKA proved too strong down the stretch and will now face the winner of Friday's late game between Panathinaikos and Tau Ceramica for the right to become the eighth team in European basketball history to repeat as continental champs. Trajan Langdon led CSKA with 13 points and Matjaz Smodis added 8 points and 8 rebounds. Unicaja, playing without injured center Daniel Santiago, got 13 points from Cabezas, Marcus Brown added 8 and Berni Rodriguez 7.
There were no surprises in the starting lineups, with Unicaja's Iñaki de Miguel matching up at center with former teammate Aleksey Savrasenko. As expected, both defenses were tough in the early going and the intensity was off the charts. The game remained scoreless for more than 2 minutes until Matjaz Smodis hit triple from the top of the key. But Carlos Jimenez answered immediately from downtown for Unicaja. CSKA controlled the boards through an outstanding Savrasenko, but missed free throws allowed kept CSKA down as Cabezas nailed a triple to give Unicaja its first lead at 4-6. J.R. Holden buried a jumper before De Miguel scored over Savrasenko down low. Papaloukas stepped on court midway through the first quarter, but Unicaja remained hot as Jimenez fed Jiri Welsch for a tough layup and a 6-10 Unicaja lead. Holden set up Savrasenko for an easy layup and Langdon added a fast break basket to tie at 10-10. Unicaja stayed focused as Cabezas nailed a big jumper and then Berni Rodriguez took the court to take care of Papaloukas. Thomas Van den Spiegel his a put-back layup, but Jimenez made a foul shot and then fed Marcus Faison for a fast break basket. Holden scored in penetration and a put-back slam by Andersen fixed the score at 18-15 after 10 exciting minutes.
Unicaja started to lock up the defensive rebounds early in the second quarter, no longer allowing any second-chance points. Meanwhile, Rodriguez fired one in from downtown to tie the score once more. Smodis fed Papaloukas for a layup off an inbounds pass, while Unicaja's second lineup struggled to score now. Savrasenko made a left-handed jump hook only for Florent Pietrus to match it with a high-flying tip-in. CSKA adjusted its defense and Holden buried a jumper for a 24-20 edge. Rodriguez quickly answered with a fast break layup, forcing coach Ettore Messina to call the game's first timeout. Van den Spiegel had a huge block on Marko Tusek, as both teams dived for every loose ball now. Faison dunked it after a midcourt steal, as the game turned into a physical battle. Pepe Sanchez was called for a technical foul, Unicaja entered the bonus and CSKA made the most of it. Langdon hit three free throws for a 27-24 CSKA edge. Papaloukas returned to the floor and immediately delivered with a steal and a three-pointer. Andersen then capped a 9-0 CSKA run with a wild turnaround jumper, which allowed CSKA to take an important 33-24 halftime lead.
Both teams went back to their starting lineups after the break, as Unicaja started to find some offensive options. De Miguel buried a five-meter shot and Cabezas hit a triple off the dribble to bring their team back to life. Unicaja had picked up its aggressiveness, especially on defense, while Jimenez blew past Andersen to cap a 0-7 run with a layup. CSKA went scoreless for nearly 3 minutes until Langdon buried a baseline jumper, but a red-hot Cabezas answered from downtown to make it a 1-point game, 35-34. Papaloukas rescued CSKA with an off-balanced jumper and Savrasenko stepped up again with another jump hook. Unicaja already started having severe problems scoring as it missed three straight times from downtown in as many trips down the court. Defense kept the Spanish champs alive, however, until Brown finally buried a triple to get Unicaja within 39-37 after 26 minutes. Andersen nailed a turnaround shot, but Brown hit free throws and Cabezas added a fast break layup, but he was hit in the face by Torres on the play and forced to come off. Sanchez came off the bench to hit a free throw that put Unicaja back ahead, 41-42. Smodis answered from downtown, but Unicaja did not allow any easy shots now. A timeout allowed Rodriguez to beat the buzzer with a layup that tied the thriller at 44-44 at the end of the third quarter.
Smodis stepped up with a put-back layup early in the fourth quarter, but Tusek answered with a three to give Unicaja a 46-47 edge. Pietrus picked his fourth foul, but that did not stop Unicaja from carrying on excelling in defense. All the non-believers had already realized that Unicaja was here to compete and take the game down to the wire. Andersen hit a five-meter jumper, meanwhile Unicaja tried twin playmakers with Sanchez and a recovered Cabezas back on court. Points came the hard way now, but Langdon finished a third-chance CSKA offense with a power basket and the free throw that came with it. Unicaja had been scoreless for 3 minutes already and called a timeout to fix its offense. Andersen finished a long CSKA offense with another mid-range jumper, while Unicaja continued to struggle down the stretch. Langdon hit a three-pointer that broke the game open, 56-47, with less than 4 minutes to go. Unicaja simply could not find the way to the basket, while a fast break dunk by Papaloukas ended a 14-0 run and sealed the outcome.
Friday, May 4, 2007