After fighting off one comeback attempt after another, Skipper Bologna outlasted Montepaschi Siena 102-103 after overtime in their semifinal on Thursday in Tel Aviv to take a ticket to the Euroleague title game on Saturday. Carlos Delfino's free throw with 11.6 seconds left in overtime broke yet another tie and sent Skipper to its first European final ever. Lead changes and ties marked much of the fourth quarter and overtime, but it was appropriate that Delfino finished it, as he led Skipper with 27 points in 41 minutes on the floor. He had another protagonist to contend with, Mikalis Kakiouzis of Montepaschi, whose three-point sent the game to overtime 90-90. Each had big help. Matjaz Smodis scored 14 points, Hanno Mottola 12, J.A. Guyton 11 and Gianmarco Pozzecco 10 for Skipper, who won despite a 42-31 rebounding disadvantage. Bootsy Thornton led Montepaschi with 26 points, while Kakiouzis had 23, David Andersen 17, Vrbica Stefanov 14, David Vanterpool and Mindaugas Zukauskas 10 each.
Skipper coach Jasmin Repesa surprised everyone at the beginning of the game by inserting young center Erazem Lorbek in the starting lineup. While Lorbek battled on the boards, Delfino started the hostilities with a four-meter jumper for Skipper, but Zukauskas immediately answered in the other end and a Stefanov three-pointer gave Montepaschi a 2-5 lead. Stefanov continued to attack, scoring a fastbreak layup, but Basile followed with a three-pointer from the top of the arc to tie the game at 7-7. Skipper began to struggle against Montepaschi's aggressive man-to-man defense and Siena capitalized with a 7-0 run keyed by two more Stefanov baskets and a triple by Zukauskas to boost Montepaschi's lead to 14-7. Skipper did not give up, as a layup by Lorbek ignited a 0-10 run in which Delfino had 5 points and Matjaz Smodis hit a shot from downtown, enough for the Bologna team to regain the lead at 14-17. Skipper would not fall behind for the remainder of the quarter. Vanterpool quickly struck back with a triple, but Skipper controlled rhythm, playing the up-tempo style thats suits it best. Even with that, Vanterpool and Kakiouzis, who had come off the bench, combined 6 points in the final 2 minutes to bring Montepaschi within 20-21, before Vujanic made a coast-to-coast layup for a 20-23 Skipper lead after 10 minutes.
Stefano Mancinelli extended Skipper's lead to 20-25 with a fast break dunk to open the second quarter. The game turned into a defensive battle, with the teams missing six consecutive shots and playing disruptive defense. Montepaschi coach Carlo Recalcati called timeout, as Siena had made 9 of 22 shots at that point of the game. The timeout temporarily worked, as 2 foul shots and a corner three-pointer by Kakiouzis were enough to tie the game again at 27-27. The teams exchanged baskets, and even when Montepaschi had some second-chance points, they failed to regain the lead due to A.J. Guyton's 5 quick points. Vanterpool drilled 2 from the line to make it a one-point game at 33-34 midway through the second, as both teams tried small lineups in a prime time tactical battle. Skipper played with 4 guards and Tomas Van Den Spiegel as its only center. It functioned for a while, as Mancinelli and Basile combined 4 of 4 free throws for 33-38 Bologna lead. Siena dominated the boards, but could not find the way to the basket, as 4 consecutive points by a hyperactive Gianmarco Pozzecco and a bomb from downtown by Delfino gave Skipper a double-digit lead at 36-47, after a 0-9 run. Andersen drilled a four-meter jumper in the final seconds of the half to cut Skipper's lead to 38-47 at halftime, as 9 different players had scored for Bologna.
Montepaschi needed a quick comeback to avoid further trouble, and started the second half using Vanterpool as point forward and displaying a more physical man-to-man defense. Thornton and Vujanic exchanged threes in the early going, as Skipper entered the foul bonus too early. Nothing seemed to work for Montepaschi, however, as its scoring rhythm was low, while a floating layup by Vujanic and an uncontested dunk by Thomas Van Den Spiegel extended Bologna's lead to 41-54 after 23 minutes. Zukauskas stepped up with a three-point play, but Skipper carried on finding easy point in the paint. Vanterpool picked up his fourth foul soon after that and had to be replaced by playmaker Stefanov, who already had 3 fouls, too. Montepaschi had more troubles near the basket, however, as Smodis and Mottola scored back-to-back baskets in the low post to push the lead to 48-60. Skipper tried a small lineup in the final minutes of the third quarter, with Stefano Mancinelli at power forward, while Siena switched to zone defense. It worked, as a big basket by Stefanov and a three-point play off a steal by Kakiouzis made it a five-point game at 57-62. Skipper called timeout but kept its small lineup, as Montepaschi carried on rallying. Kakiouzis was Siena's go-to guy, scoring twice near the basket to bring Montepaschi within 62-64 entering the fourth, after a 14-4 final run.
The fourth period started with both teams scoring at full speed, as Guyton and Stefanov exchanged bombs from downtown. Thornton scored consecutive layups to let Montepaschi tie the game at 69-69, but Guyton scored his second three in 2 minutes, and Delfino followed it with one three-pointer of his own to give Skipper some fresh air against Siena's zone. Andersen kept Siena in the game with 2 mid-range shots and a turnaround jumper, but even with that, a two-pointer by Smodis made Skipper keep a slim lead at 75-77. The game was full of intensity in both ends of the court. Kakiouzis hustled like a titan to make a layup, while a tip-in by Vanterpool made Montepaschi regain tje lead at 79-77, its first one since the opening quarter. Even when both teams were playing hard defense, their offensive concentration was even higher. A free throw by Delfino tied the game again at 81-81 with under 3 minutes to go, and Mottola stepped up with a key three-pointer, forcing Montepaschi to call timeout with 2:19 to go. Vanterpool found Andersen for and easy basket, but Delfino drilled an open three-pointer on the other end, extending Skipper's lead to 83-87. Montepaschi set up a play for a three-point attempt by Kakiouzis, which he missed, but Montepaschi managed to regain possession with 1:02 to go. Andersen managed to make it a two-point game at 85-87 with 45 seconds remaining, but Mottola drew a foul and drilled both free throws to let Skipper keep a safe margin at 85-89. The game seemed to turn into a carousel of free throws, in which Thornton made 2 with 24.9 seconds to go, but Vujanic missed 1 of 2, making it a one-possesion game. Montepaschi managed to find Kakiouzis in the right corner, drilling a big three-pointer with 11.2 seconds to go, while Basile, Skipper's go-to guy in these kind of situations, missed the final shot in regulation, as the game went to overtime, 90-90.
Both teams failed to score early in the extra period in a game full of excitement, until Smodis drew Vanterpool's fifth foul and made 2 attempts from the line for a 90-92 Skipper lead. Bologna's defense excelled in overtime, forcing Montepaschi to committ a 24-second violation. Pozzecco and Thornton stepped up for their respective teams, scoring 4 points apiece for a 94-96 score, and Kakiouzis, once again, got a key three-point play to give Montepaschi its first lead in overtime, 97-96, with 2 minutes to go. Both teams missed consectuive possessions until Pozzecco found Smodis in open court for a basket-and -foul, which Thornton answered in the other end with yet another three-point play, the third in less than 2 minutes, enough to give Montepaschi a 100-99 lead with 1:19 to go. Skipper needed a go-to guy and Delfino, its best player tonight, drilled a three-pointer from the top of arch to make Bologna regain the lead at 100-102, as the sellout crowd could not believe their eyes. Thornton drew a foul on Smodis with 17.5 seconds remaining, tying the game at 102-102, but Kakiouzis fouled Delfino to give his team the final possesion. Delfino missed his first attempt, but made the second, enough to seal the win, as Dusan Vukcevic missed Montepaschi's last shot of the game. Vujanic missed two free throws with 0.9 seconds to go, the second one on purpose to put the victory on ice, helping Skipper to win one of the best games in European basketball history!
Thursday, April 29, 2004