Kinder Bologna is one step away from glory tonight after posting an emphatic 60-80 road win over Tau Ceramica in Game 3 of the Euroleague Finals before 9,500 distraught fans at Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain. In yet another display of its bottomless resolve, Kinder closed ranks despite early foul trouble to center Rashard Griffith to take Tau and its crowd slowly out of the game. The man of the match was Kinder's exquisite swingman, Emanuel Ginobili, who made one spectacular play after another en route to 27 points in a game where every other player was hard pressed to reach double digits. Ginobili made 6 of 7 two-pointers, half of them acrobatic, and added 4 of 8 three-pointers, including two to start the final quarter that left Tau helpless. With a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, Kinder can now take the Euroleague title if it can win Game 4 on Thursday, also in Vitoria, while Tau will face a do-or-die attempt to get back in the series and extend it to Game 5, to be played in Bologna on May 10, if necessary.
Ginobili's huge game was seconded in the scoring column by Antoine Rigaudeau, with 15 points, Matjaz Smodis with 13 and Alessandro Abbio with 11. That bench boost from Smodis and Abbio underscored Kinder's deeper reserves, which helped it overcome despite playing 4 games in 6 days, 3 of them while taking the Italian Cup over the weekend. But it was the defense that held Tau without a basket for more than 10 minutes early in the game that everyonce cited as the key afterwards.
"Our attitude and work on defense was what let us play calmly on offense and to look for our shots without any pressure," Messina said. "It has been like that for us all season. Whenever we play defense like that, everything comes easy on offense."
No shot came easy for Tau, whcih got 15 points from Fabricio Oberto and 13 from Victor Alexander, but whose 38-28 rebounding edge went for naught in the face of 1-for-14 three-point shooting and 19 turnovers. Ironically, the game couldn't have begun any better for Tau. Saulius Stombergas made the first shot, Oberto and Alexander started vacuuming up rebounds, and Elmer Bennett was not pressured mercilessly as in the beginning of Game 2. It added up to an 8-2 start for the home team, but just as importantly, Griffith drew two fouls in the first three minutes and went straight to the bench. Tau immediately tried to take advantage immediately by going to Victor Alexander, but got only a single basket out of him in Griffith's absence, and that one came as David Anderson fell down in the paint. Otherwise, baskets became seriously scarce for Tau. The Kinder defense thickened around the ball and the basket, and when Griffith came back with 2 minutes left in the quarter, Tau's lead was just 16-10. And as it happens, the previous basket by Stombergas would be Tau's last almost until halftime. And Kinder was playing such good D, forcing turnover after turnover from Tau, that Griffith wasn't even essential to the turnaround that was coming. It started with Matjaz Smodis, who was now defending Alexander, drilling a three-pointer that cut Tau's lead to 16-14 at quarter's end.
With defenses so tight, the game was waiting for someone to take it over, and that person was Ginobili. His first successful drive to the basket gave Kinder its first lead 16-18 and lit his fuse. He drove again, hit a three-pointer, drove again, put back a rebound and threw down a sectacular fastbreak dunk as the Kinder lead swelled to 32-25 before a disbelieving Tau crowd. The home team had not hit an outside shot since Stombergas opened the game with a jumper. A fastbreak by Bennett, his first points of the game, broke a 10-minute drought without a basket for Tau, but the home team's shooting was just as dry from the foulline, where it would make only 9 of 15 attempts by halftime. Laurent Foirest finally broke the shooting drought with Tau's first three-pointer, but his countryman, Antoine Rigaudeau, answered in kind for Kinder on the very next possession. Kinder went into the lockeroom with a 37-30 lead. Ginobili had scored 11 of his 17 points in the second quarter, and Tau had the added problem of 14 turnovers to correct.
The other unsung hero for Kinder on offense at that time was Smodis, who returned at the start of the third quarter with Kinder's first six points. Good thing for the visitors, too, because Tau came out smoking, scoring four baskets, two each by Alexander and Oberto, to pull within 38-40. If the first two quarters saw a battle just to get off a good shot for anyone but Ginobili, now the tempo was revved up. But Kinder held up under the calm hand of Rigaudeau, who kept getting to the foulline and making his shots, six in the middle of the quarter that restored Kinder's lead to 8 points, 43-51. By now, Tau was depending on its own young gun, power forward Luis Scola, whose frontcourt quickness made for steals and baskets that kept the home team within striking distance. But now Scola became the second Tau player, after Foirest, to be forced to sit with four fouls. No sooner did that happen than Ginobili resurfaced with another spectacular shot. Tau's frustration came to a head on the next foul call against them, as coach Dusko Ivanovic drew a technical. The three free throws that came of that possession let Kinder finish the quarter with its biggest lead of the night, 47-56.
Bigger leads came right away for Kinder, however. Ginobili stole the fourth-quarter tipoff and fed Alessandro Abbio for a layup. Abbio then drilled a three-pointer before Ginobili put the finishing touches, a pair of deep three-pointers that lifted Kinder to a 20-point lead, 49-69, with 7 minutes left to play. Tau continued to struggle from inside and out. The battle was over until Game 4 on Thursday.
Tuesday, May 1, 2001