Real Madrid took an important step towards reaching the ULEB Cup semifinals for the second time in club history by beating Crvena Zvezda 72-83 in front of a sellout crowd at Pionir Arena in Belgrade, Serbia, in the first leg of the two-way quarterfinals series on Tuesday night. Madrid now takes an 11-point lead in the series to the Spanish capital for the second leg. Madrid is unbeaten in 17 home games in both the Spanish League and the ULEB Cup this season. Louis Bullock led the winners with 22 points. Felipe Reyes posted a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Charles Smith added 15 for Madrid. Milan Gurovic had 18 points for Zvezda and Tadija Dragicevic added 16 for the hosts. Raul Lopez and Reyes combined for all the points in a 0-10 run that gave Madrid a 44-45 edge at halftime. Madrid improved its defense after the break, while Smith and an outstanding Bullock broke the game open and gave the guests a decisive lead in the series.
Nenad Misanovic scored inside on Zvezda's first possession, but Axel Hervelle matched it with a dunk. Dragicevic struck from downtown and Gurovic scored his first basket to give the hosts a 7-2 lead. Bullock stepped up with a three-pointer, fed Hervelle for a layup and then scored back-to-back baskets to give the visitors their first lead, 9-11. Steven Markovic fed Gurovic for his second dunk to get the crowd even more involved, but Blagota Sekulic hit a mid-range jumper for an 11-13 Madrid edge. Dragicevic fired in a triple only to see Hervelle score in the middle to provide another lead change, 14-15. Dragicevic followed free throws with a dunk, and even when Felipe Reyes scored in the low post, Gurovic and Igor Milosevic gave Zvezda a 21-20 edge. Vuk Radivojevic and Smith traded baskets to fix the score at 23-22 after 10 minutes.
Smith followed free throws with a three-pointer for a 25-27 Madrid edge early in the second quarter. Gurovic buried one from downtown and Petar Popovic scored in the paint, but a reverse layup by Milic got Madrid within 30-29. Popovic scored inside, but Smith banked in a mid-range jumper. Mirko Kovac stepped up with a corner triple and added a big driving layup for a 37-33 Zvezda lead. Reyes found space for an uncontested dunk, but Antonio Burks bettered that with a big three-point play. Madrid called timeout, however Zvezda stayed aggressive in defense. Meanwhile, Burks scored again in penetration to make it a seven-point game. Lopez and Reyes took over with consecutive layups-plus-fouls to get Madrid within 42-41. Free throws by Lopez and Reyes capped a 0-10 run, but Pero Antic beat the buzzer with a driving layup to get Zvezda to 44-45 at halftime.
Hervelle fed Reyes for an easy basket, which Gurovic erased with an alley-oop layup. Both teams continued to score fluently after the break, as a three-point play by Reyes gave Madrid a 46-50 edge. Antic fired up the crowd with a put-back dunk, but Madrid did not panic. Bullock shined with a fast break layup and soon added 4 free throws to keep the guests ahead, 50-56. Zvezda called timeout and opted to attack the basket, but Madrid kept its momentum going, as the hosts had already entered the foul bonus. Reyes hit free throws and even when Popovic hustled to get a second-chance layup, Smith buried one from downtown to make it a 9-point game. Gurovic and Reyes traded free throws, but Antic fired in a three-pointer to give Zvezda some hope, 57-63. Zvezda tried quick shots without much success now, while Smith buried a seven-meter triple and Sekulic added an easy basket for a 57-68 Madrid margin after three quarters.
Madrid continued to excel on defense early in the final period, as it opted to slow down the game's tempo. Sekulic's dunk gave the visitors their biggest margin yet, 57-70. Zvezda called timeout, as its fans tried to help their team start a big fourth-quarter rally. Madrid shut down Gurovic, who even missed free throws now, and on the other end Hervelle beat the shot clock buzzer with a three-pointer, good for a 58-73 lead with 6 minutes to go. Zvezda had run out of ideas on offense, while Bullock fired in a running triple that broke the game open, 58-76. Gurovic answered from downtown, but Madrid kept powering the offensive board. Bullock nailed another three-pointer that Dragicevic matched at the other end. Reyes sealed his big game with another layup as Madrid edged closer to ULEB Cup glory.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007