In a Euroleague where anything can happen and often does, there remains a whole lot of basketball still to be played in this regular season. Partizan Mobtel showed the fans in Belgrade and beyond that much on Wednesday as it knocked off visiting Group C leader CSKA Moscow 93-81 in a great show of pride. Against the top defense on the continent, Partizan set the tone by scoring 48 points in the first half alone, more than CSKA allowed Idea Slask Wroclaw in a whole game two weeks before. MVP candidate Milos Vujanic led the winners with 28 points, 7 assists and 5 steals, but the help he got from his teammates was the deciding factor in undoing the Russians, who entered the game with the Euroleague's best record. Nenad Krstic added 19 points for the winners, Fredrick House 13 and 6 steals, Dusan Kecman 10 points and Duro Ostojic 11 rebounds. All their effort was needed to resist 25 points and 5 assists from CSKA guard J.R. Holden and 23 more points from center Victor Alexander. The victory means Partizan keeps alive the chances for Top 16 with a 3-6 record, which ties Adecco Asvel and Idea Slask in sixth place. CSKA is down to 7-2 but remains 2 victories ahead of the pack because Ulker lost against Olimpiacos.
The game started a bit nervously for Partizan. Vujanic missed two shots and big man Djuro Ostojic lost one ball. The result was CSKA taking a 9-12 lead of the kind the Russian team tends to cling to like a pitbull. But then House woke up his team. He had the job of guarding CSKA's motor, Holden, and in that sense the game started well for Partizan. Although Holden was probably the best player for CSKA on the floor, House was able to get three steals to get the Partizan transition game working. One coast-to-coast basket by House got the crowd excited. A pair of triples by Holden dampened the mood again, but in the meantime, CSKA's second perimeter scoring threat, Hatzivrettas, was having big problems with Vujanic. Hatzivrettas had 3 fouls after just 5 minutes. With Ostojic now rebounding excellently on both ends of the floor, Partizan completed a 14-8 run and finished the first period ahead 23-20.
An unlikely long shooter, Victor Alexander, hit one from the downtown at the begining of the second period and it was unusual in two respects. Big Vic rarely shoots, let alone lands, a three-pointer, and it was going to be one of the few shots in the quarter that didn't have something to do with Holden and Vujanic. Until halftime, it almost seemed that the rest of the CSKA and Partizan players were done their chores! Over the next 8 minutes, the giant matchup between the smallest players on the court took center stage, all of it. Vujanic got the better of their duel for awhile and he sparked a 9-2 Partizan run that gave the home team its first double-digit lead, 42-32. Holden answered, again and again in fact, but CSKA was only able to knock the deficit down to 48-40 by halftime.
The 5 opening minutes of the third quarter were a complete disaster for CSKA. The visitors scored only 2 points and after Vujanic made one from downtown the home team's advantage stood at 61-42. Alexander Bashminov was fouled out for CSKA, and 3 minutes later Partizan was up 72-50. Vujanic, House and Kecman played aggresive defense in the middle of the court, whil Krstic and Ostojic rebounded great under CSKA's basket. As such, the third period ended with 78-59 Partizan lead.
As the third period went, so did the fourth, with the only difference being the team. This time, Partizan did not score for 5 minutes and CSKA parlayed a 0-9 run to come within 10 points, 78-68, with 5 minutes left. But in that moment, Vujanic re-took the control of the game, making a triple for Partizan's first points from the field in the last period. CSKA did not have time now nor strength to complete the come back, especially after 3 free throws by Kecman made made it 92-78 with 2 minutes left. The story was over, a defensive story with a surprise ending, and a happy one for a Partizan side that showed it has not spoken its last word in the Euroleague yet.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002