Olympiacos of Athens completed its long return to safe waters in Group C with a blowout 65-82 road win at second-place Ulker in Istanbul on Wednesday night. After having started the season 1-3, Olympiacos now has a three-game win streak, a 5-4 record and a share of four-way tie for second place with Ulker, Virtus and Real Madrid. A dominant inside game that was too much for slightly injured MVP candidate Joseph Blair of Ulker to resist did the big damage for Olympiacos. The visitors used a 1-11 run in the second quarter to take control of the scoreboard, and after that, Ulker never came as close as single-digit deficits again. The Olympiacos frontline was awesome. DeMarco Johnson had 19 points and 9 rebounds and Ignacio De Miguel a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double. Playing 40 minutes and putting up the same inside numbers was shooting guard Maurice Evans, with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Amid the swarm, only Blair who had impact in the first 25 minutes for Ulker. He finished with 13 points, making all but one shot he took, but saw his rebounds almost halved to 6. Harun Erdenay led the Ulker with 18 points and Melvin Booker added 15, but most of those were scored with the game out of reach. Ulker made only 3 of 21 three-point attempts, one of which gave Virginius Praskevicius his only points of the night. Olympiacos won the rebounding war 38-25, with a 13-7 advantage on the offensive glass.
Olympiacos went strong at Ulker from the very start. Johnson took the ball at Blair and drew his second foul after just 6 minutes, meaning Ulker had to call on young big man Zaur Pachulia. Prior to that, both teams had been controlling each other. Ulker's defensive ace Haluk Yildirim, was keeping Evans from getting going, too, and after 5 minutes, it was 8-8. A couple minutes later, Erdenay popped in a three to make it 14-13 for the locals, but Olympiacos was already showing its effectiveness inside, even with its bench players. Backup center Juan Antonio Morales got the last of several offensive rebounds on a tip-in that allowed the Reds to take the lead, 16-17, at the end of 10 minutes. Johnson, De Miguel and Morales had 11 of those points between them.
The punching and counterpunching continued through the initial minutes of the second quarter, with Miljan Goljovic putting up 4 points for Ulker to answer baskets by Johnson and Morales. But staying inside, the Reds got a three-point play from De Miguel and the lead was 20-26. Blair answered with his own basket-plus-free throw for 26-28. Having drawn Ulker's defensive attention inside, Olympiacos now passed outside to Nenad Markovic for a long bomb that make it 26-31 after 16 minutes. Johnson went back to work inside and got two free throws, Evans added a triple from deep and Nikos Harissis copied him for a 1-11 run and a 27-39 Olympiacos lead. Ulker finally started scoring again, but Olympiacos answered back quickly each time. It took a Blair layup at the end to keep the damage at just 10 points, 33-43, at the half.
In first half of the third quarter, Olympiacos continued to hold down the other four Ulker starters - Erdenay, Booker, Praskevicius and Yildirim. Blair had not missed yet in 5 shots, but his opportunities were limited by strict attention from the Olympiacos defense. The Reds' advantage, meanwhile, grew to 42-56 in the 25th minute on 2 straight Johnson baskets. The Olympiacos power forward backed up his game at the other end, too, with almost consecutive blocks against both Praskevicius and Blair. Erdenay and Booker now got involved with 5 more points each, but every time Ulker went to the line or found a basket, the Reds took back the same points more quickly at the other end. Evans and De Miguel were the big guns now, with the former making his first 2 three-pointers and the latter pulling rebounds, drawing fouls, dishing assists and making steals. When Evans added 2 free throws at end of quarter, the Reds were solidly ahead, 51-67.
Ulker was going to need to make a run in the fourth quarter, but the Reds were having none of that. For every Ulker shot, the visitors had an answer. Ulker seemed not to manage 4 points in a row until the 36th minutes, when Booker and Erdenay combined to make it 59-72. But Olympiacos put the responsibility for keeping the lead in the hands of a veteran, Milan Tomic, who popped a basket immediately for Olympiacos. Ulker was once again without points for a couple minutes while Evans and Tomic added 4 more to a lead that hit 61-78 with 3 minutes left. Ulker seemed to be banging its head against the Olympiacos defensive wall, and the Reds weren't about to let anything happen now. However they had started the season, they were now tied teams who had won on each other's home floor, and the 17-point difference tied up the accomplishment neatly for Olympiacos. In case of a future tie in the standings with Ulker, the Reds will win that, too.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002