Olympiacos saved its biggest performance of the Euroleague season so far the Top 16 finale, invading Vitoria, Spain to deal an 80-88 home loss to Tau Ceramica, thereby stealing first place in Group E and homecourt advantage in the Quarterfinal Playoffs. Olympiacos finished with a 5-1 record and will have three home games, if necessary, against Real Madrid in the best-of-five playoff series. Tau fell to 4-2 in Group E and now, without homecourt advantage, will face Group F winner Regal FC Barcelona in the next round. Olympiacos took a lead in the game's fifth minute and refused to let go of it when Tau rallied to within a point with 4 minutes to play. Theodoros Papaloukas and Giannis Bourousis combined for a quick 7 points then and Panagiotis Vasilopoulos buried a killer triple entering the final minute to ice the victory for Olympiacos. Nikola Vujcic led the winners with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Yotam Halperin added 16 points on 4-for-5 three-point shooting, while Bourousis and Jannero Pargo scored 11 each. Mirza Teletovic led Tau with 16 points, while Tiago Splitter had 15, Sergi Vidal 14, Pete Mickeal 13 and Pablo Prigioni 12.
Tau showed its will in the early going playing fast-tempo basketball, taking advantage of Tiago Splitter's activity in the paint. Despite Pargo opening fire for the visitors with a short fastbreak jumper, the Spaniards amassed a 7-2 lead behind 5 points in a row from the Brazilian center after 2 minutes. The Reds didn’t panic, however, as Nikola Vujcic and Nikos Boroussis took over for a 7-7 tie midway through the quarter. Tau's shooters didn’t find their momentum, missing even open shots, and Olympiacos took advantage to take its first lead, 7-10, after a three-pointer by Yotam Halperim. Vujcic kept rocking inside for Olympiacos, scoring 6 points in a row that extended the visitors' edge to 10-16 after 7 minutes. Tau tried to answer through Pablo Prigioni, who hit back-to-back triples to prevent the Reds from escaping, but Halperin showed up quickly to reply with a couple of bombs of his own, making it 18-26. Only free throws by Mirza Teletovic and a monster dunk by Splitter allowed Tau to get as close as 23-28 at the end of the quarter.
Back-to-back steals by Josh Childress and Theodoros Papaloukes ended up with Olympiacos scoring easy layups to raise its advantage to double digits, 23-32, soon after second quarter tipped off. Tau groped for answers as 2 free throws by Childress and a three-pointer by Greer pushed the Olympiacos lead to 12 points, 25-37, after 13 minutes. Tau coach Dusko Ivanovic called for an urgent timeout, but his team couldn’t find the balance on offense, spending more possessions without points. Olympiacos kept adding to its lead as Vasilopoulos and Vujcic scored to make it a 16-point game, 25-41, midway through the second period. Vlado Ilievski and Teletovic kept the hosts in the game as Olympiacos went through a short offensive crisis. Splitter hit a hook shot at 31-43 with 3 minutes left until halftime, but Halperin needed only one shot to restore the Reds at 31-46. Nerves took over at the home side, as Prigioni had to be benched after committing his second and third fouls in less than a minute before Pargo drilled another triple from the corner as Olympiacos skated into the break with a crowd-silencing 37-51 advantage.
Mickeal kept leading Tau after the break, but his efforts had little return as Olympiacos found Vujcic and Papaloukas to run the show. A great assist by Papaloukas turned into a basket-plus-free throw for Childress that increased visitors’ margin to 41-58 after 24 minutes. The situation seemed to be critical for Tau, but Vidal emerged to hit back-to-back triples, followed by a short jumper in less than a minute to awake the home fans and reduce the gap to only 9 points, 49-58, forcing a timeout by Olympiacos. Another three-pointer, by Teletovic, made it a six-point game right after that, but Bourousis and Halperin quickly came to the rescue to restore the Reds' double-digit advantage at 52-63 after 27 minutes. Although the hosts looked ready to make a move, Olympiacos kept everything under control thanks to Vujcic, who was unstoppable in both the low and the high posts. Teletovic hit a high-bouncing triple to bring Tau within 60-67 entering the last minute, but Panagiotis Vasilopoulos replied with another bomb right after that. Will Mcdonald, with a buzzer-beater dunk, kept Tau within single digits at 62-70 after 30 minutes.
Zoran Erceg restored the double-digit lead for Olympiacos with a three-pointer to open the final quarter, but the hosts didn’t surrender and found Teletovic and Spltter for easy layups. An unsportmanslike foul by Papaloukas allowed Mickeal's foul shot to make it a six-point game, 67-73, after 33 minutes. Halperin hit a jumper to kept a safe margin for Olympiacos, but not for long. Prigioni scored a nice layup, Teletovic beat the shot-clock from downtown and Vidal made an acrobatic reverse to the gap to the minimum, 74-75, the closes that Tau had been to Olympiacos since the first quarter. With 4 minutes to go, and his team struggling to hold its lead, Papaloukas stepped forward. First, he drew an offensive foul on Mickeal; then he fed Bourousis for a huge hook shot; then he pulled a defensive rebound in a crowd and went the other way to bury a triple, making it 74-80 and effectively ending Tau's threat. Papaloukas fed Bourousis again before Vasilopoulos made no doubt about it by burying an open triple from the wing at 77-85 at the start of the final minute. A free throw carousel after that served for nothing but to confirm a monster road win, first place and homecourt advantage in the playoffs for Olympiacos.
Thursday, March 12, 2009