AEK of Athens is the pride of Greek basketball this afternoon. With 6,000 fans cheering at their backs, AEK staged another killer comeback against Benetton Treviso to win Game 3 going away, 71-56, and soar into the Euroleague semifinals. Mikalis Kakiouzis, the miracle worker from Game 1, returned to the scene today with twin three-pointers that ignited a 18-1 AEK run that bridged the final two quarters. Before that happened, Benetton had been leading 44-48. At the same time that Kakiouzis put on another three-point show, AEK locked on its famous defense for 10 solid minutes without a single Benetton point. Like that, AEK was on its way to a semifinal date with Tau Ceramica of Spain, which has already upset the other two Greek powerhouses, Olympiakos and Peristeri, in these playoffs.
The team without a star certainly has one or two now. Kakiouzis was a forgotten man in his first game back from injury when he conjured up two three-pointers in 25 seconds to win Game 1. Today in Game 3, he drilled back-to-back threes from the corners, and thereby lit a fire under AEK. He only finished with 11 points, but his 6 three-pointers in the series couldn?t have been more spectacular, especially coming from a 24-year-old who had never made more than 15 in a whole season before.
And once again Andrew Betts took control of the vital middle for AEK, scoring 13 points for the third time in the series, and pulling 11 rebounds, 6 of those on offense. Yet another frontcourt bruiser, Demos Dikoudis, scored 13 to go with 6 rebounds, while a fourth, Martin Muursepp matched the 11 scored by Kakiouzis. As important as the 10 points off the hand of point guard Vrbica Stefanov were his 6 assists and the defensive job he did against Petar Naumoski of Benetton, his compatriot in the backcourt of the Macedonian national team. After averaging 18 points through the playoffs, Naumoski finished with 5 today and connected on just 1 of 7 three-pointers he attempted.
As in their Game 1 loss, a 10-point comeback in the final 90 seconds by AEK, Benetton didn't see the train coming this time, either. It was going along in a comfortable position for a road team in a must-win game, a couple baskets away from taking full control of the scoreboard. But those couple baskets went the other way when Kakiouzis launched his shots out of the corner, and suddenly Benetton was caught in a bad dream. Brown was the high scorer with 13 points, a far cry from his playoff average beforehand, 24 per game. After averaging 90 points through two games, Benetton could never have expected being held to the lowest point total of the Euroleague playoffs.
Both coaches made surprise choices for their starting five, but Dusan Ivkovic's decision to start 17-year-old Nikos Zisis at shooting guard was truly surprising. Zisis has barely played all season but scored 10 points in a Greek League game on Sunday. He was replacing Nikos Hatzis, and he would have to guard Brown. AEK led by five a couple times in the first quarter before winning it 17-14. Brown tied it up, however on the first shot of the second, while Zissis quickly picked up his third foul. With that shot, Brown matched the entire first-quarter total of three-pointers for both teams as Benetton went 0-for-2 and AEK 1-for-6. A follow up three by Brown?s backcourt mate, Naumoski, gave Benetton its first lead at 20-17, a margin that held more or less from then through the middle of the third quarter.
Luigi Bucchi's surprise starter was Denis Marconato, a veteran big man whose best game of the season was Sunday in the Italian League. He replaced Alan Tomidy, who has been suffering from influenza. Both played, but neither could do much with a game-long rebounding dominance by AEK that was going to take a toll sooner or later on Benetton. That four-man frontcourt pulled 26 between them as AEK won the rebunding war 42-32, with a 13-6 edge on the offensive boards. Even Stefanov grabbed 5 rebounds.
Wednesday, March 7, 2001