CSKA Moscow on Wednesday night made the Group H race as interesting as any in the Top 16 by knocking off leader Tau Ceramica on the road in Spain by a solid 73-87. Despite trailing very early on, CSKA controlled the tempo, style of play, and most importantly the scoreboard throughout all four quarters. CSKA improves to 2-1 with the victory while Tau drops to the same record and now shares the top spot in Group H with the Russians. Gordan Giricek led the charge for CSKA with consistent outside shooting that really hurt Tau. Giricek netted the game-high 25 points, followed by Curtis McCants with 16, Dimitri Domani with 15, and Mirsad Turckan and Ruben Wolkowyski both picking up double-doubles. Turckan collected 13 points and 12 boards, Wolkowysky 11 and 10. For Tau, the stars from this past weekend's Spanish Cup victory, Elmer Bennett and Dejan Tomasevic, did not have very good games, a tell-tale sign for the offense in general. Tau shot only 20% from downtown (4 for 20), and under 50% from the field in general. Luis Scola led the way for Tau with 16 points, Bennett added 14, Laurent Foirest 13 and Tomasevic 12.
The game started with a big ovation from the home crowd for the Spanish Cup victory, but Tau had to get down to the business of defending its Group H lead against a visitor with eyes on the same prize. Tau jumped onto the parquet wanting to please its crowd and set off with a couple showtime plays by Hugo Sconochini and Fabricio Oberto. But CSKA came back quickly and surely, with a fast-paced versatility that gave the visitors the lead, 6-13, after 6 minutes. McCants, Turkcan and Giricek all got on the board early, and by the time the latter hit his first three-pointer, he was up to 7 points. That forced Tau into calling its first timeout and bringing Bennett and Chris Corchiani onto the court in a twin point guard set. But not even the arrival of those veteran game-changers helped the Spaniards' offense. More surprising, perhaps, was Tau's defense being unable to hold back the Russians. At the end of the first quarter, CSKA led by 8 points, 14-22, and had all the confidence it needed to keep going.
The second quarter proved even worse for the hosts, as they tried to come back but just didn't have it in them. On the other hand, CSKA was well prepared for everything Tau threw at them. They played an open game and spread the floor on offense to allow their shooters to control the tempo, especially Giricek. Accurate shooting combined with good defense in the paint allowed the guests to maintain the lead. The game became much more physical which forced the referees to call a double foul on Andres Nocioni and Giricek, as the defenses for both teams started to tighten up. Tau handled the intensity better and slowly, point by point, Tau managed to cut into the lead until it was the same as when the second period started. CSKA's late efforts were not enough to distance themselves before the break, when the scoreboard read 39-47.
In the third quarter, the one thing that had been lacking finally appeared: intensity. Both teams showed the will to win, especially the hosts, who tightened their defense even more and made better choices at the offensive end. But as Tau's game improved, so did CSKA's, in the form of better shooting from beyond the arc. They hit 3 three-pointers in barely 4 minutes to help maintain the lead at 50-59 in the 25th minute. The gap in the score made Tau coach Dusko Ivanovic call a timeout, but coach Valery Tikhonenko's players were not affected and kept on playing with the same intensity, to go along with their speed and long-range shooting. CSKA kept Tau's basket on fire at the end of the third and led 58-66.
In the last quarter, Tau continued to strengthen their defense and were finally able to cut the lead to just 6 points, but CSKA did not allow the hosts any closer. Their problem was execution. During a scoreless stretch in which Tau could not get anything to fall, Nocioni stood all alone under the basket and bricked an uncontested layup. CSKA, too, began struggling on offense but their defense and Tau's poor shooting helped maintain the lead. Finally CSKA awoke from its slump and began converting opportunities and increased its lead once again. Over the final minutes Tau became desperate and threw up threes and jumpers from all over the court and as CSKA pulled in rebound after rebound, Tau was forced to foul. CSKA calmly converted their free throws and sealed the game and their share of first place.
Wednesday, March 20, 2002