Kinder Bologna doesn't get much practice at comebacks, but the one it mounted Tuesday night to make the Euroleague finals will go down as one of the greatest in basketball history. Down 18 heading into the fourth quarter at the court of its archenemy Paf, Kinder won 74-70 with a show of shooting and defense that will never be forgotten in Bologna. Twin superstars Emanuel Ginobili and Rashard Griffith led Kinder's unprecedented comeback and put their team in the Euroleague final with a 3-0 sweep of Paf, which had played its best game of the series by far - until those final 10 minutes. There was no clue to what was in store as Carlton Myers nailed the last of five third-quarter three-pointers for Paf to give the home team a 63-45 lead. But when Ginobili hit a couple early shots in the fourth quarter, including a three-pointer, Kinder was suddenly gaining steam for what would be a 25-1 run to steal the game and the series. In the Finals, Kinder will face the winner between AEK Athens and Tau Ceramica beginning in Bologna on Tuesday, April 17. Griffith, who finished with 17 points despite foul trouble, said: "Paf thought they had won the game. They relaxed. But we always had confidence." Said Kinder coach Ettore Messina: "For the first three quarters we had a tough time getting to the basket. But our players were fresher in the last quarter."
The once-in-a-lifetime victory marked Kinder's 16th in a row in Euroleague play and ended a six-year streak in which the team has been unable to beat Paf at Paladozza Arena. It certainly seemed to be the same 'ol story early Tuesday evening as Paf found the home cooking to its liking, throwing in 9 of 17 three-pointers in the first three quarters. At the same time, the three-point gusher that fueled the first two victories for Kinder seemed to have dried up as the visitors made just 4 of 13 in the same span. But Ginobili came up with 10 straight points early in the final quarter, before Paf could even sink a free throw, and within four minutes, that 15-point deficit was down to 63-59. Almost worse for Paf, in those opening minutes, Gregor Fucka picked up three consecutive fouls and had to leave the game just when Paf needed a basket like a man dying of thirst needs water. It did not come.
Our big mistake," said Paf center Giacomo Galanda, "was the lack of concentration on defense in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Then they start getting hot on offense and for us it was difficult to find an easy basket. When you can't find a basket, it's very hard to play tough defense." From the other bench, Marko Jaric was watching what he later called a "devastating" performance. On the court, Alessandro Abbio was paying attention to the five-minute mark. "The gameplan was that if we could be close with five minutes to go, we could win," Abbio said. "The key was better defense and easy baskets coming out of that defense early in the fourth quarter."
Instead of a Paf taste of water, another three-pointer fell for Kinder, this time by Antoine Rigaudeau, then Alessandro Frosini hit a baseline jumper to tie it up, 64-64. Finally, Griffith blocked a shot at one end then completed the play with a hook shot, giving Kinder its first lead since the early part of the game, 66-64. Ginobili scored two more points and then Davide Bonora, who played most of the quarter for Jaric at point guard, fed Griiffith for a fastbreak dunk. Two minutes were left and Kinder had a 70-64 lead. Finally, Andrea Meneghin broke Paf's drought by knocking down a three-pointer with 1:38 on the clock. But even when Gianluca Basile repeated the shot in the final minute, cutting the lead to 72-70, Kinder was in control. A tip-in scored by Griffith or Frosini on the final Kinder possession sealed the victory.
Ginobili, the scoring hero of the series, sensed the comeback much earlier than anyone. "We played very good defense with lots of pressure when the fourth quarter started, and when the lead went down to 10, we saw the panic on the faces of Fortitudo," he said. "We understood then it was time to play, that we could win."
Either team could have taken over the momentum early. Just a steal and layup at the tipoff by Emanuel Ginobili, hero of the first two games, might have rattled Paf. But it didn't. Fucka quickly drained a pair of three-pointers and new starting center Eurolijus Zukauskas strung together 6 consecutive points to give Paf what seemed like its first lead of the whole series at 14-12. That turned into a 22-17 edge after 10 minutes as Myers got into the act, and reached 27-19 early in the second quarter on a Basile three-pointer. Paf was by now locked into a 1-2-2 zone that challenged Kinder to shoot, but nobody's shots were falling. Worse, after going to him for a much-needed basket and trying it again the next time down the floor, Kinder saw Griffith leave with his third foul. From that point until halftime, Paf grabbed its biggest first-half lead (36-23), though Rigaudeau led a small rally that saw Kinder cut the deficit to 40-32 at the half. Midway through the third quarter, it was still an eight-point difference, 44-36, when Meneghin, Myers and Basile strung together five three-pointers to end the quarter for Paf. The lead was 63-45, both Griffith and Frosini were up to four fouls and the only a couple stray three-point shots, by Abbio and Rigaudeau, kept Kinder aloft.
The game seemed over, except for 10 of the most shocking minutes anyone in the Paladozza Arena had ever seen, the 10 minutes that send Kinder to the Euroleague finals.
Tuesday, April 3, 2001