Not ready to let its Euroleague season end, Winterthur FC Barcelona blasted Unicaja at home on Thursday by 80-58 in Game 2 of the Quarterfinal Playoffs, prolonging their all-Spanish series to the limit. The victory allowed Barca to tie the series at 1-1 and force a third and decisive game that will be played next Thursday in Malaga. Unicaja had won the opening game at home, meaning that Game 3 will be a winner-take-all affair. Barcelona looked to its superstar to save the season on Thursday, and Juan Carlos Navarro responded with a near-perfect performance, leading all scorers with 25 points in just 18 minutes. Navarro made 3 of 3 two-point shots, 5 of 6 triples and 4 of 4 free throws, bringing the sellout crowd at Palau Blaugrana to its feet on several occasions. Jordi Trias joined him in double digits with 11 points for the winners. For Unicaja, whose own spectacular long-distance shooting decided Game 1, only Marcus Faison and Carlos Cabezas scored in double digits on Thursday, with 11 points apiece. Barcelona used Navarro's shooting to race ahead by double digits early in the second quarter. Unicaja hit back shortly after halftime but never really threatened the lead after that, leaving both teams a week to get ready for Game 3.
Barcelona head coach Dusko Ivanovic made a substition 20 seconds into the game, Denis Marconato for Michalis Kakiouzis, so he could guard Marko Tusek. Meanwhile, Jaka Lakovic of Barcelona knocked down the game's first points from downtown. Unicaja got on the board when Marcus Faison put back a rebound. Both teams were playing fast as Navarro replied to a bucket by Cabezas for a 7-4 score As Unicaja circulated the ball to Faison to stay close, Barcelona had problems escaping Unicaja's defenders and Carlos Jimenez tied the game at 9-9 for the visitors. Both teams studied the rival on every possession until Navarro found space enough to blast a three-pointer that brought the house down. Trias joined the party with 4 straight points inside that made it 16-10 and prompted Unicaja's first timeout. Navarro came back and buried his second shot from the arc, while Unicaja found Daniel Santiago for a good move underneath at 19-12. Lakovic and Faison traded baskets but the quarter was closed by Navarro's free throws, giving him 12 points on the quarter and leaving Barcelona comfortably ahead, 23-14.
The second quarter started with Unicaja pressing on defense, but Barcelona worked the ball well until Roger Grimau's jumper made it 27-16. Jiri Welsch of Unicaja scored his first points of the series penetrating through Barca's defense, but that was an isolated action for Unicaja. Otherwise, Barcelona's defense closed in on Santiago, while its offense pulled away to a 31-18 advantage. When Unicaja could run, Pepe Sanchez fed Welsch for a layup, but on the next play, Lakovic forced an offensive foul on Cabezas and Grimau fed Marconato for a dunk. Remembering their team's Game 1 victory, Kostas Vasiliadis and Faison connected back-to-back triples to draw Unicaja within 35-26. A layup by Cabezas was quickly neutralized by a 5-0 Barcelona run that included a triple by Lakovic. Cabezas replied again with a driving backet, but the first half close with Barcelona guarding a solid 41-30 edge.
Berni Rodriguez opened the second-half scoring for Unicaja with a driving basket that Navarro answered with his third three-pointer, good for a 44-32 score. Unicaja was ready, however, as Cabezas copied that shot and finished off fastbreak of a steal by Rodriguez to make it 44-37. Marconato interrupted Unicaja's surge with a slam dunk. Rodriguez and Navarro traded triples at 49-40, but the latter was totally on fire and quickly added 5 more points, including a new three-pointer that fired up the home crowd and put the lead into double digits again, 54-42. Rodriguez, Santiago and Marcus Brown launched Unicaja on a new counterattack as Barcelona suddenly hit a wall of double-teams on Navarro that prevented him from shooting. Unicaja had its options but could not score, either, so when Navarro went to the line again, his free throws made it 58-48. Unicaja kept feeding Santiago inside but the big man had a hard time in the paint. Navarro took advantagewith new rainbow shot, while Fran Vazquez stepped on-court and scored, too. Roko-Leni Ukic finished an 8-0 run with a driving layup that left Barcelona fully in control, at 64-48 after 30 minutes.
Florent Pietrus dunked for Unicaja to open the final quarter. Grimau quickly hit a layup and Kakiouzis scored on a back-door move in the paint to discourage any ideas of an Unicaja comeback. Unicaja kept firing away, but Grimau himself had 4 straight points good enough to forge a 20-point lead, 72-52, with 4 minutes left to play. As it was clear that Barcelona's defense wouldn't allow Unicaja to rally, the Barcelona fans celebrated the probability of a third game to decided the series. Both coaches tried to reserve their premier players in the closing minutes, giving time instead to substitutes such as Vasilieidis and Ignacio De Miguel, whos points made it 72-56. Ukic rattled in a final triple entering the last minute that the fans celebrated as teams started thinking ahead to the third and decisive game of the series, to be played next Thursday in Malaga. The winner will punch a ticket to Athens and the Final Four.
Thursday, April 5, 2007