The Group A matchup between a father and son, not to mention a would-be contender and a title favorite, went the way of the home team on Thursday as Barcelona and its coach, Svetislav Pesic, beat visiting Alba Berlin and his son, Marko Pesic, 81-74. The victory preserves Barcelona atop the group at 6-1, which is also tied for the best record in the entire Euroleague with CSKA of Group C. Berlin falls to 3-4 and part of a four-way tie for fourth place with Skipper, Cibona and Pau-Orthez. The German visitors enjoyed a pair of eight-points leads in the first half, when playmaker Mithat Demirel played a superb ballgame, and tried to rally at the finish, but Barcelona's depth, size and experience proved too much. The winners were led by Gregor Fucka with 15 points, Dejan Bodiroga with 14 and Sarunas Jasikevicius with 12. Barcelona's biggest edge was on the boards, 45-26, as Roberto Dueñas led all rebounders with 11. Also, Rodrigo De la Fuente returned for the winners with 9 points and 7 rebounds. Demirel led Alba with 22 points and Jovo Stanojevic added 20 points, but one of the league's top performers, Quadre Lollis, was limited to 8 points and 4 rebounds.
The first seven shots of the game were missed before Barcelona's Cesar Bravo, who would play only 5 minutes total, opened the scoring. Alba reacted inmediately to lead 2-5 after 4 minutes. Barcelona had another problem when Nacho Rodriguez had to leave the floor after second later when he crashed with Demirel. Point guard John Celestand soon came on to make his debuts with Alba and the German guests team took its biggest lead of the quarter at 11-19 with an 0-7 run that included a superb dunk and a three-pointer from Stefano Garris. But Bodiroga scored his first basket as time expired to put the scoreboard at 16-19 and the Barcelona fans at ease.
Kevin Rankin opened the second quarter for Alba with a three that was good for a 16-22 advantage and Demirel scored to make it 21-27 before getting his third foul. Despite the foul trouble, the Berlin playmaker was the star of this period, with 9 points and a total of 12 by halftime. Barcelona tried to come back with the help of young Anderson Varejao, but Jasikevicius and Juan Carlos Navarro missed several threes and a free throw from Marko Pesic gave Alba an eight-point lead, 27-35, after 16 minutes. De la Fuente, in his return from injury, stepped up and became the local hero with 9 points before halftime that put the score at 41-42.
Bodiroga and Rodriguez scored the first baskets of the second half to give the Barcelona the lead again at 45-42, its first advantage since the way back in minute 7. Demirel remained a factor, scoring to put Alba back up, 47-48, but now Barcelona put all of its considerable offensive fire on the floor. No sooner had that happened than the lead was regained and extended to 8 points, 58-50, in the 28th minute. It soon broke the double digit barrier at 62-52 as Barcelona started dominating the inside game. The players from Alba seemed a little bit tired, Celestand was not a big help and coach Emir Mutapcic couldn't find big support on the bench, which was missing captain Henrik Rodl due to injury. At the end of this quarter, however, the guest were still within striking distance at 62-54.
Striking distance disappeared quickly at the start of the fourth quarter. The Spanish side started with a 5-0 run to extend its lead to 67-54 in just 60 seconds. But the game was not over. Not at all. Just 3 minutes later, thanks to an 0-8 Alba response, the score was 67-62. But the German players were then hurt by their fouls and this permitted Barcelona to regain a more comfortable 73-62 lead with 4 minutes left. Alba was able again to cut that, to 73-66 in a minute. Stanojevic put his team within 75-69 with 2:33 remaining and then Demirel made it a thriller at 75-72 on a three-point shot with 1:13 to go. But at the end it was Barcelona that prevailed on the free throw line, where it managed to make 16 of 18 free throws in the last quarter.
Thursday, December 5, 2002