On a rare night in Moscow when his team didn't do everything right, Nikos Hatzivrettas switched on his long-range shooting and led CSKA to an difficult 79-69 victory over visiting Cibona VIP. A trio of three-pointers by Hatzivrettas that bridged the third and fourth quarters seemed to give CSKA's defense enough to finish off the game, but no. Cibona pulled within 2 points in the final 5 minutes before another Hatzivrettas triple capped a late rally that finished Cibona's game-long challenge. With the victory, CSKA stayed undefeated at 2-0 in Group D, while Cibona dropped to 0-2. Hatzivrettas led the winners with 22 points including 5 of 7 triples. J.R. Holden added 16 points and Victor Alexander and Darius Songaila bagged 13 apiece. For Cibona, Slaven Rimac had a big scoring night with 28 points (3 of 5 threes), and Davor Kus and Barisa Krasic added 11 each.
The scoring action started early with Haris Mujezinovic's hook shot for Cibona, but Hatzivrettas replied with his first warning from downtown for a 3-2 CSKA lead. The game was fast as Davor Kus hit a layup to give Cibona what would be its last lead for many minutes, 5-7. After that, CSKA organized its offense better behind Holden, whose triple earned CSKA a 12-7 edge. That, however, is when Rimac woke up. With 5 straight points, he put his team back into the game at 13-12. From that point until the end of the period, however, CSKA rolled away on an 11-4 run led by Holden that put the scoreboard at 24-16 after 10 minutes.
The second quarter started with Rimac giving his team even more life. He hit 2 straight triples as Cibona came within 24-22, and another basket after CSKA reacted for 27-24. Cibona's defense improved dramatically and CSKA survived on three-pointers by Victor Khryapa and Theodoros Papaloukas. Rimac was just huge, however, scoring his 15th point of the night for 32-31. Cibona's accuracy from the 6.25 line, 5 for 8 so far, was the key of the game at that point. Nevertheless, the game entered a phase of poor scoring, as both teams started to commit unforced mistakes. CSKA wasn't able to score a single point for more than 3 minutes and Rimac gave Cibona back a lead at 35-36, but not before Holden's three ended the half with CSKA back in front, 38-36.
The mood after resumption was very similar to the last minutes of the second quarter, as both defenses made it hard to score. CSKA never let go of the lead despite Zoran Planinic of Cibona hitting a triple for 43-41. For CSKA, Holden decreased his shooting level at the same time that Darius Songaila had to leave the court due to an early fourth foul. Rimac also found it hard to score. Those difficulties persisted for both sides until Hatzivrettas put a stop to it single-handedly and changed the game for CSKA. Inn a quarter where the teams finished sharing a total of just 25 points (16-9), a pair of three-pointers near the end by Hatzivrettas boosted the hosts to their most comfortable lead in awhile, 54-45, after 30 minutes.
The decisive final quarter saw Cibona rallied in the first minutes, even though Hatzivrettas started the quarter with yet another three, good for a double-digit lead for CSKA to defense. Again it was Rimac, with 5 straight points, who led the guests back until Mujezinovic's tip-in pulled Cibona within 59-56. Songaila returned to court to become the decisive player, shrugging off Cibona's approach at 63-61 to score the key points for CSKA. Barisa Krasic appeared and landed 2 unbelievable triples from the side for Cibona, but Holden had made one of his own from downtown as the CSKA lead hit 71-63. The game was coming to an end and CSKA's play in the lane proved decisive as Alexander and Songaila hit the decisive shots from under the rim. With barely 2 minutes to go, Papaloukas nailed 1 of his 2 free throw attempts, pulled the offensive board and passed to Hatzivrettas, who with a definitive three broke the game open to 77-66. Only a minute remained, but the biggest threat of the season on CSKA's home court was already subdued.
Wednesday, March 5, 2003