The Euroleague Top 16 phase is in full swing as the best clubs on the continent tackled each other in eight exciting games of Basketball this week. Over Thursday and Friday the competition delivered all the thrills and spills we have come to expect as the big clubs further enhanced their prospect of qualification to the Playoffs.
Round 9 recap
Group E is proving to be fascinating as some of the giants of the European game jostle for position heading down the final stretch of the Top 16 phase. After this round of action Barcelona maintained its unbeaten record and stays out in front in the table, but what is happening below the Spanish club is intriguing. EA7 Armani Milano has surprised many during the Euroleague this season and the Italian team occupies second place. The ramifications of Milan´s form means a giant of European Basketball could be leaving the competition at this stage. At the moment, Greek powerhouses Panathinaikos and Olympiacos are fighting it out with Turkish heavyweight Fenerbahce for the last qualifying place.
Barcelona continued to dominate the Top 16 by cruising to a formidable 93-73 win over a Fenerbahce team that had regained form in recent weeks. Barca´s success was propelled by Euroleague man of the moment Ante Tomic in the first half, but the team surged in a dominant second to claim a win that sent the club to the Playoffs. The Spanish giant also extended its Top 16 win record to an amazing 21 games over two seasons.
EA7 Armani Milano´s Top 16 success has been built solely on home form, but the Italian club downed current champs Olympiacos 86-88 for a first road win. The victory was hard fought as the away team held on to secure success thanks to a triple from the high scoring Keith Langford. Milan´s win has really added an interesting twist to Group E, with the Italians locking down second place for the time being with a 6-3 record. Olympiacos is in real danger of not reaching the Playoffs and ending its titles defence in the Top 16 as the Greek team slipped to 5th on a 4-5 record.
Also vying for contention in the group is Unicaja Malaga after the Spanish team claimed an 83-75 home win over Anadolu Efes. The home team sewed up the game from the first tip off; crushing Efes with a 17-1 opening run that all but secured the win. After this success Malaga is in sole possession of third place with a 5-4 record, while Efes slips further off the pace with a 2-7 record in seventh.
Last placed Laboral Kutxa Vitoria beat the odds to snatch a surprise 61-68 away win over Greek juggernaut Panathinaikos. It has been a stop/start Euroleague campaign for the Athens club, and once again Panathinaikos was undone by a resilient team. Laboral´s win snapped the club´s dreadful 7-0 losing streak thanks to a star turn from Andres Nocioni with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Group F is not proving to be as blockbuster as Group E with the big clubs doing the business at the top and the rest fighting it out below. However, the quality of the Basketball cannot be questioned as Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow are arguably the two best teams in this season´s Euroleague. Just below them, Maccabi Tel-Aviv is on track, while Euroleague debutants Lokomotiv Kuban and Bayern Munich are continuing to enhance their reputations as surprise packages.
It was far from a routine win as group leader CSKA Moscow escaped from Lithuania with a narrow 86-88 victory over last placed Zalgiris Kaunas. The game truly went to the wire as Moscow defended the final play with Aaron Jackson blocking a last ditch triple effort from Zalgiris´ Justin Dentmon. The victory keeps Moscow top of the group, tied with Real Madrid at 8-1, while Kaunas stays rooted to the bottom with the worst record in the Top 16 (1-8).
Real Madrid showed no signs of taking a foot of the gas as the Spanish giant cruised to yet another success, this time a comfortable 74-85 road win over Turkish giant Galatasaray. Los Blancos looked in control for much of the game and 12 points in the third period from Nikola Mirotic made it easy for the visiting team in the last stanza. Madrid joins CSKA on 8-1, while Galatasaray will need to focus on the coming weeks to recover from sixth place (3-6).
The solid early form Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv showed at the start of the Top 16 seems to have eroded. The Israeli powerhouse and former Euroleague champion slipped to a defeat against Russian debutant Lokomotiv Kuban 78-76. Tel-Aviv holds onto third place with a 6-3 record but the teams below are catching, such as Lokomotiv, with the resilient Russian team now in 5th with a 4-5 record.
Bayern Munich had a chance to put pressure on Tel-Aviv in third place, but the German team fell to a 70-55 defeat at the hands of a coasting Partizan NIS Belgrade. The Serbian hosts took an early double digit lead courtesy of a convincing 13-2 first quarter run and never looked back. Tarence Kinsey scored 15 points in the second half on his way to an off the bench haul of 21 points overall. Bayern stays in the hunt for qualification in 4th place with a 4-5 record, and Partizan sticks in 7th but improves to a 2-7 record.