One of last season's Final Four teams put itself in great position to make this year's trip to Tel Aviv, too, as visiting CSKA Moscow topped its closest Group D challenger, Tau Ceramica, 77-80 on Wednesday in Vitoria, Spain to stay undefeated. Marcus Brown led five double-figure scorers for CSKA with 22 points, while Mirsad Turkcan put up a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds. J.R. Holden added 17 points for the winners, Theodoros Papaloukas 13 and Dragan Tarlac 12. Luis Scola had 20 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks for Tau, whose record drops to 2-1. Arvydas Macijauskas added 15 points, Pablo Prigioni 14 and Andres Nocioni 13 for Tau.
CSKA needed a full 2 minutes to make its first basket. Once they managed to score, however, the visitors made it 7 points in a row for a 6-7 lead that cancelled Tau's explosive start. Fueled by a crazy crowd, however, Tau responded with a 10-0 run of its own to take 16-7 advantage after 5 minutes. The showdown was already throwing off sparks. Victor Alexander, a former Tau player, had to head the bench with third fouls, the first big problem for CSKA. Tau started looking for inside baskets on every offense, and both Scola and Nocioni obliged as the hosts' lead hit 18-9. But CSKA's answer was its ace backcourt duo, Holden and Brown. They each had three-point plays and center Dragan Tarlac climbed off the bench for 4 points as CSKA got all the way back within 24-23 by the end of the quarter.
The second quarter started with quick lead changes although both teams found problems scoring. Defenses were winning the battle, but the fight was costing Tau some unnecessary fouls. Even with Macijauskas on court after he had sat out most of the first quarter, a mask covering his broken nose, Tau was unable to add easy baskets. Meanwhile CSKA built a small, 31-34 lead after 16 minutes thanks to back-to-back layups from Turkcan. A Tau timeout was followed by a good sign for the hosts, Macijauskas nailing his first three-pointer to put his team back in front, 36-34. There the difference remained, after baskets by Sergi Vidal of Tau and Theodoros Papaloukas of CSKA in the final minute sent the teams to the lockers with 38-36 showing on the scoreboard.
On the first possession after halftime, Tarlac smashed the rim for CSKA to tie the game, and Tau should have taken that as a warning. Brown followed with 6 points in a row as the guests opened a sudden 36-42 margin. Although Kornel David and Scola increased the intensity under the rims on both ends, CSKA controlled the rhythm thanks to its solid defense. The atmosphere was getting hotterstep by step because of the physical game both teams were putting on the floor. The difference remained for CSKA midway through the third quarter, mainly thanks to Brown's smart shooting. A three-pointer by Holden was followed by an offensive foul called on Scola, forcing a Tau timeout with CSKA ahead 51-58. Things only got worse for Tau as Holden made a jumper and Brown dunked to set CSKA's lead at 9 points, 55-64, after 30 minutes.
The last period started with another CSKA slam, this time by Brown, who was a nightmare for Tau's defense. But a technical foul called on CSKA coach Dusan Ivkovic awakened Tau, whose 7-0 run over the next couple minutes got it back in the game at 62-66. A three-pointer by Pablo Prigioni forced a CSKA timeout with Tau having come within 65-68 with almost 7 minutes to play. The pace slowed then, and CSKA kept its lead at 68-72 thanks to 4 points from Papaloukas. Macijauskas struck back with a triple, but a pair of Holden free throws and another Papaloukas layup made it 71-76 after 37 minutes. After a timeout, Scola was fouled just before the game entered in the last minute, but a three by Prigioni reduced the gap to 77-79 with 37 seconds to go. Prigioni also fouled out while trying to stop Brown, who made only 1 of 2 free throws, giving Tau a final chance to tie in the last 10 seconds. Macijauskas tried an awkward three-pointer that Turkcan rebounded, making CSKA the only undefeated team now in Group D.
Wednesday, March 17, 2004