With a personal 11-point run by Maurice Evans to bridge the last two quarters, Olympiacos made a major move in Group G on Thursday with a gritty 73-61 home win against Union Olimpija in Athens. The victory gave the Reds a 3-1 record and preserved for them a share of first place with just 2 games left. What's more, by sweeping the two-game series against a direct rival, the Reds could now have major tiebreak advantages if it somehow ends up in a tie with Olimpija, either directly or with Barcelona, at the end of the Top 16. After 30 minutes of tight defense on Thursday, Evans unleashed his offensive firepower to take Olympiacos to a comfortable decision and leave Union Olimpija, the upstart of the season, looking at a 2-2 record and a difficult climb from here. Evans finished with 23 points to lead all scorers. DeMarco Johnson added 13 points and Giorgos Giannouzakos 10 for the winners. Only Goran Jurak and Vladimir Boisa, with 13 and 11 points, respectively, managed to score in double digits for Olimpija, which made only 4 of 23 three-pointers (17%) on the night.
Johnson got Olympiacos going with 4 points at the start of the game, good for an early 4-0 lead, but Olimpija had the right reaction. The Slovenians, who started the game with three big men - Boisa, Stipe Modric and Josko Poljak - took off on their own run of 6 unanswered points and by the time 5 minutes had been played were ahead 7-10. Evans, guarded at the perimeter by Modric, who tried to keep him far away from the paint, was the player to give the Reds back a lead, 11-10 after 7 minutes. Then Olympiacos sprang a surprise, a zone defense, but Boisa punished it with the game's first three-pointer. When Roberts Stelmahers scored a fast break and the foul shot that came with it, Olimpija had leapt ahead 11-16. That would end up being the entire score after 10 minutes, which was a testimony to both defenses, but especially Olimpijas concentration on stopping Milan Tomic and the pick-and-roll the Reds like to play.
At the beginning of the second period, Olympiacos coach Lefteris Subotic decided to play with his short lineup, with Giannouzakos at the power forward. That choice allowed the Reds to make an 11-3 run and to re-take a lead at 22-19 after 14 minutes. Olimpija's problems included Poljak committing his third personal foul. Now it it was the turn of the Olympiakos outside shooters, as Nenad Markovic and Giannouzakos hit consecutive three-pointers to make it 30-25. Thanks again to Giannouzakos, the Reds would open the margin to 34-27 with 3 minutes before the end of the second quarter. Olimpija coach Tomo Mahoric decided to use a zone defense, and it worked immediately. Reds center Ignacio De Miguel picked up his third personal foul and Jurak took advantage of that to score 5 consecutive points that got Olimpija close again. At the end of the first half, Olympiakos was only a single point ahead, 36-35, and that only because Vlado Ilievski missed a free throw at the end of a 9-2 Olimpija run that brought the teams to intermission.
The beginning of the third quarter was something like déjà vu. Johnson scored 5 points and pushed Poljak to commit his fourth personal foul, but after 23 minutes of play, Olimpija finally reclaimed the lead when Roberts Stelmahers scored for 39-40. It was a very close and defense-oriented game for both teams. Neither would managed to take more than a one-basket margin, and fouls continued to pile up as Markovic committed his fourth for the Reds. The defense continued to dominate and small details to weigh heavily. Jasmin Hukic scored for a 45-47, but soon after his own third foul, Evans tied it and gave the Reds a 49-47 lead to take into the final period. Tomic, who had killed Olimpija with 27 points in Ljubljana, was held without a single point through 30 minutes.
Despite a defensive struggle in both the perimeter and the paint, Evans gave Olympiacos the key advantage at the beginning of the fourth period. While the Reds played take-no-prisoners defense, Evans took over himself with 7 more points to drive his team to a 56-48 lead after 33 minutes of play. The Slovenians tried to return and were able to cut the margin to 58-52, but Olympiacos refused to let them get any closer. Evans added 2 more points for 61-52, giving him 13 of the previous 16 for his team. He was supported by Christos Harissis, who delivered energy and fast moves while providing the first double-digit margin, 63-53, with 3 minutes remaining. When Harissis scored again to make it 67-53, the Olympicos run was up to an incredible 22-6 since Olimpija had led 45-47 late in the third quarter. Olimpija tried to press now, but the Reds dodged it with good balance and passing. Their third win in four Top 16 games was at hand, and Athens could now await with relish an upcoming showdown with Barcelona and a player Olympiacos fans have know only too well, Dejan Bodiroga.
Friday, March 27, 2009