Milan grabs fourth straight win to close in on playoffs
EA7 Emporio Armani Milan took a critical step forward to make it to the playoffs from Top 16 Group E by downing Laboral Kutxa Vitoria 65-83 on the road on Thursday. Milan grabbed its fourth consecutive win and improved to 7-3 to keep hold of second place in Group E. Vitoria dropped to 2-8 and is all but mathematically out of the playoffs race. Curtis Jerrells led the winners with 17 points. Samardo Samuels added 15, Alessandro Gentile had 13 while Keith Langford scored 12 for Milan, which collected 14 steals. Tibor Pleiss led Vitoria with Euroleague career-highs of 30 points and 13 rebounds - but none of his teammates scored in double digits. Langford and Daniel Hackett fueled a 5-20 opening run. An outstanding Pleiss ignited a 15-0 run which Leo Mainoldi capped with a three-point shot to give Vitoria its only lead, 26-25. Milan kept collecting steals – 11 before halftime! – and found a new go-to guy in Gentile, who got plenty of help from C.J. Wallace to boost the guests' margin to 36-50 at halftime. An unstoppable Pleiss brought Vitoria within 52-58, but Jerrells and Samuels allowed Milan to restore a 55-67 margin after three quarters. Nothing changed in the fourth quarter, as Milan boosted its lead to 59-78 and never looked back.
First quarter: 5-20 opening run puts Milan in control
Hackett got Milan going with a three-pointer and a four-meter jumper by Samiels gave the guests a 0-5 lead. Vitoria was held scoreless for almost two minutes until Fernando San Emeterio nailed a corner triple. Samuels scored around the basket and a layup by David Moss boosted Milan's lead to 3-9. Andres Nocioni made free throws, but Nicolo Melli erased them with a put-back basket and soon gave Milan a 5-13 margin. Langford followed a turnaround jumper with a three-pointer in transition and Melli capped a 0-11 Milan run for a 5-20 score. Fabien Causeur stepped up for Vitoria, but Langford scored again to keep the guests way ahead, 7-22. Vitoria tried a different frontcourt with Pleiss and Mainoldi. Pleiss hit a baseline jumper and exchanged layups with Hackett to make it 11-25. Pleiss kept pushing Vitoria with a jump hook and by making 4 of 6 free throws to bring the hosts within single digits, 17-25. Pleiss scored in the paint for a 19-27 Vitoria deficit after 10 minutes.
Second quarter: Visitors pull away
Adam Hanga downed a five-meter jumper early in the quarter and soon added free throws to bring Vitoria within 23-25. A three-pointer by Mainoldi capped a 15-0 Vitoria run and allowed the hosts to take their first lead, 26-25. Gentile rescued Milan with a mid-range jumper and free throws. After David Jelinek scored around the basket, Hackett made free throws. Pleiss kept Vitoria within 30-31. Samuels silenced the crowd with a huge slam and a free throw by C.J. Wallace made it a 4-point game. Jerrells scored in transition, but Thomas Heurtel hit a stop-and-pop jumper. Hackett kept Milan way ahead, 32-38. Hanga kept pushing Vitoria with a driving layup and Pleiss matched Wallace's jumper with a high-release jump hook. Gentile struck from downtown and provided a highlight with a dunk that caused the hosts to call timeout at 36-45. Gentile buried a wide open triple and free throws by Wallace fixed the halftime score at 36-50.
Third quarter: Dominant Pleiss keeps Vitoria alive
Samuels split free throws immediately after the break. Vitoria tried to speed up the game tempo by using shorter possessions. Causeur nailed a three-pointer that Langford matched at the other end for a 39-54 Milan lead. Pleiss tried to change things with a tip-in and free throws, as Milan struggled to score midway through the third quarter. Pleiss ignited the crowd with consecutive dunks that gave Vitoria some hope at 47-54, after an 8-0 run. Samuels split free throws. Jerrells and Nocioni exchanged three-pointers and Causeur sank a corner jumper to bring the hosts back to life, 52-58. Vitoria was all over the plavce on defense, with big blocks by Nocioni and Ilimane Diop. Jerrells rescued Milan with a one-handed floater and a wild step-back jumper by Langford gave the guests a 52-62 margin. Nocioni split foul shots, Diop followed that with a put-back basket, but Samuels and a buzzer-beating triple by Jerrells restored a 55-67 Vitoria margin.
Fourth quarter: Milan's intensity paves the way to victory
Peppe Poeta found his first points early. Jerrells shined with a driving layup. Hackett and Pleiss received unsportsmanlike fouls after fighting for a loose ball. Gentile made free throws, as the game turned into a physical battle. Moss buried a corner three-pointer that sealed the outcome, 57-73, with six minutes to go. Hanga hit a jumper in transition, but Jerrells followed a jumper with an acrobatic three-point shot that forced Vitoria to call timeout at 59-78. Pleiss scored around the basket, but he didn't find much help around. Milan started to use long possessions to run the game clock down, and stayed active on defense to cruise to a very important victory in the hunt to reach the playoffs.
Thursday, March 13, 2014