Tau Ceramica took exclusive hold of first place in Group A by downing Olympiacos 89-74 in a head-to-head battle for the top spot in Vitoria, Spain on Wednesday. After taking an intense game and revenge for its only loss so far, Tau now leads Group A with a 7-1 record, while Olympiacos is second at 6-2. The Reds beat Tau 97-78 in Athens, so Olympiacos will have the tie-break advantage if both teams are tied at the end of the regular season. Serkan Erdogan led the winners with 24 points. Igor Rakocevic added 23, Fred House had 12 while Tiago Splitter and Luis Scola each scored 11 points for Tau. Scoonie Penn and Alex Acker each had 20 points for Olympiacos while Giannis Bouroussis posted a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. After both of the first two quarters ended with one-point margins for Olympiacos, House and Rakocevic took over in the third quarter, pushing Tau to a 60-49 advantage that Erdogan and Scola helped keep safe the rest of the way. The key stat of the game was turnovers, of which Tau's defense forced 21 on Olympiacos while the hosts committed only 8.
Henry Domercant opened the scoring with a monster three-pointer that Giannis Bouroussis followed with a short jumper for a 0-5 Olympiacos lead. Although Fred House got Tau on the board with a pull-up jumper, the Reds needed only a couple driving shots by Acker to increase the gap to 2-9 after 4 minutes, taking advantage of Tau's poor shooting. Olympiacos kept preventing the hosts from scoring in the paint, and even though Luis Scola and Erdogan got to the free throw line, Acker detonated a dunk as the visitors pushed their margin to 5-13 after 6 minutes. Tau's answer then came from Erdogan, who had 5 points in a 10-2 run to tie the game, 15-15, and raise the crowd to its feet. Free throws by Rakocevic soon gave Tau its first lead, 17-15, but a three-pointer by Penn was enough to give the Reds a new 19-20 edge after 10 minutes.
Penn opened the second quarter by adding a layup to the Olympiacos advantage, but Pablo Prigioni answered quickly with a three-pointer to tie again, 22-22. That hardly bothered the Reds, however, as Penn and Domercant each hit a shot from downtown to vault their team ahead 23-28. Both teams were giving the crowd a show, and now came Tau's turn. the hosts found Rakovic on offense, and he scored three times in a 7-2 run that tied it up again, 30-30 with a nice layup while playing point guard. That brought Tau back to life, as now the defenses got tougher by the second and scoring became almost exclusively limited to free throws. Olympiacos managed to take a slight margin exploiting Tau's anxiety and it took advantage of its deep rotation to avoid foul trouble and reach halftime leading 38-39
House followed a big three-pointer with free throws to put Tau ahead right after the break, but Bouroussis answered from the same distances to allow the Reds to regain the lead, 43-44. House didn't give up, however, as his second triple ignited a 7-0 run that Splitter capped with consecutive baskets for Tau's biggest margin yet, 52-47. Although Bouroussis kept scoring, the game was different now. Rakocevic launched back-to-back three-pointers while House scored again for Tau's first double-digit lead, 60-49. Despite a timeout, Olympiacos went scoreless for almost 4 minutes until Penn buried one from downtown. Free throws by Penn and a layup by a hyperactive Bouroussis brought the Reds within 64-57 after three quarters.
Bouroussis and Zizic each scored inside to get the Reds within 64-61 early in the final period. Tau did not panic, however, but rather improved its defense and found a go-to guy in Erdogan, who buried a pair of critical jumpers to keep Tau comfortable at 70-61. Acker kept pacing the guests, but he did not find much help now. Tau did, as back-to-back baskets by Scola and an outstanding four-point play by an unstoppable Rakocevic sealed the win, 83-67, with 2 minutes to go. Olympiacos had beaten Tau by 19 in Athens, and with the outcome of this game no longer in question, both teams battled for the point difference now. Erdogan hit a jumper to make it 89-71with less than a minute remaining. Acker committed a turnover off an Olympiacos timeout but House missed at the other end. Free throws by Acker and Bouroussis allowed the Reds to keep the tie-break advantage, but Tau left the court cheered by its many fans as the team to beat in Group A.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006