Euroleague Semifinal Recap
CSKA and Panathinaikos prevail in nail-biters.
This year’s Euroleague Final Four was a showdown between four powerhouses of European basketball. There were no Cinderellas invited to this ball – CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos, Olympiakos and FC Barcelona all earned their way to Berlin – no flukes involved.
The Friday semi-finals tipped off with favorite CSKA versus Barcelona. Some interesting storylines heading into this game include one of the best overseas big men – Barcelona’s David Andersen – playing against his former CSKA teammates and CSKA’ Sasha Kaun playing in another Final Four, after being a key contributor on Kansas’ NCAA title team last season. And, perhaps most importantly, this match proved to be the Final Four rubber match between these two squads, as they have both beaten each other once in the Final Four since 2003.
The game started out sloppy, as often important games do, with lots of whistles and turnovers. Then Barcelona caught fire, going 4 for 5 from deep within the first five minutes and running up a 10-point lead. The tide could have changed a few minutes later when Barcelona star Juan Carlos Navarro picked up his second foul and went to the bench. However, the Spaniards held off CSKA and ended the frame up 21-12.
CSKA made their push at the starting of the second quarter with Navarro still catching splinters. Surprisingly, their spark came from Kaun, who rarely plays but was inserted into the game in the first quarter. He was an active player at both ends of the floor, fighting for loose balls and even rocking the rim for a dunk. Andersen countered for Barcelona, showing why he has dominated Europe throughout his career. A big man equally comfortable hitting outside shots or posting up, the Atlanta Hawks’ draftee could very easily be a rotation player in the NBA.
With Navarro back in the game, Trajan Langdon immediately took him into the post and drew the star’s third foul, seriously hamstringing Barcelona’s attack. Langdon showed why he is the reigning Final Four MVP, moving great without the ball and hitting tough jumpers. After a bunch of more fouls the first half ended with an Anderson last second offensive rebound and put-back to give Barcelona at 36-32 lead.
Barcelona was able to keep their 4-point lead even with Navarro still on the bench for the first half of the third quarter. Andersen continued to dominate, Ramunas Siskauskas heated up for CSKA and the third quarter ended with a 2-point Barcelona lead.
CSKA grabbed their first lead, 62-61, a couple of minutes into the final frame off of a Siskauskas three. He didn’t stop there. The Lithuanian sniper, as the color commentator rightfully dubbed him, scored 11-straight points to put CSKA up 67-61. Make that 13-straight points as he hit another difficult driving shot. In the end it was just too much Siskauskas, as the defending champs prevailed 82-78. No question who the two stars of the game were – Barcelona’s David Andersen had 24 points and 4 boards, while CSKA’s Ramunas Siskauskas netted 29 points in only 24 minutes o action.
After a rather tame crowd took in the first night’s game, things jumped off for the Panathinaikos and Olympiakos game, as the the Greek crowd started up their trademark chanting and clapping. The stars in the early going were Nikola Pekovic, who muscled his way to some quick baskets for Panathinaikos, and Josh Childress who, with his afro in full splendor and his family in the crowd, hit a fast break layup and dropped a dime to a teammate. But, like in the first semi-final, fouls took center stage, as Olympiakos’ Jannero Pargo got whistled for two quick ones and had to hit the pine. But the first quarter was all about former Rocket Vassillis Spanoulis, whose 11-points pushed Panathinaikos to a 27-21 lead.
Pekovic continued his strong play in the second quarter, doing a very nice job running the pick and roll, which is something he’ll need to do if the Minnesota draft pick ever plans on playing in the NBA. Early in the second quarter he had already bested his 13 ppg average, pouring in 15 points. Not to be outdone, Olympiakos’ Lynn Greer dropped 15 of his own (but then didn’t score another point until midway through the fourth quarter). 43-41 Panathinaikos at the half.
The third quarter was a see-saw affair, with neither team being able to pull away from the other. Then a couple of former NBAers – Childress and Mike Batiste – decided to have a dunking duel, with each man putting down thunderous finishes. 66-63 Panathinaikos at the end of three.
Mike Batiste is a beast, and his throwdown on Josh Childress in the final frame proved it. Batiste then abused Childress in the post to draw Josh’s fourth foul, sending him to the bench. Still, neither squad could take control of the game and heading into the last minute we had a nail-biter – 82-82. After a Pekovic layup made it 84-82, the two teams traded missed shots and Olympiakos got the ball back at the end of the game to try to tie it up. Alas, it was not to be as a Childress attempted tip-in off of an offensive rebound missed. Panathinaikos are into the finals to face CSKA. A Euroleague legend lead the way for Panathinaikos, as Sarunas Jasikevicius played his normal gritty, emotional game, putting up 18 points and 5 assists.
We’ll see you all on Sunday for a recap for the CSKA-Panathinaikos final.