FC Barcelona needed overtime, but managed to defeat hungry Partizan Mobtel 95-91 in Group A on Thursday for its 25th straight Euroleague home win. Already the Group A winner, Barcelona improved to 11-2, while Partizan dropped to 5-8 a three-way tie with Pau-Orthez and Union Olimpija for the fifth place, the last one in the group that comes with a secure Top 16 qualification. Partizan started strong but needed Nenad Krstic to explode in the third quarter to get back in the game. In the end, Juan Carlos Navarro and Roberto Dueñas allowed defending Euroleague champs to force the overtime and escape with the win. Navarro nailed a season-high 22 points and Dueñas had a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards. Vlado Ilievski added 16 points, including 4 of 7 triples, Dejan Bodiroga 15 and Anderson Varejao 13 for the winners. For Partizan, Dusan Kecman led all scorers with 25 points, including 5 of 6 three-pointers, Krstic added 19, Fred House nailed 17 and Djuro Ostojic chipped in with 14.
An intense 2-3 zone defense sparked Partizan to a quick 0-4 lead. Barcelona didn't score for 4 minutes until Ilievski nailed a triple for 3-4. However, with Partizan switching between a press and the zone and a stellar Fred House on offense, the guests rolled to a 5-15 advantage that forced a Barca timeout. Navarro sparked Barcelona's reaction with a triple that gave the hosts some air. With Patrick Femerling also on court, Barcelona played with two big men which allowed them to dominate the paint and cut the deficit little by little. With Navarro feeding Bodiroga on a fastbreak, the hosts pulled within 12-17, and then 4 straight free throws by Rodrigo de la Fuente and Nacho Rodriguez turned it to a one-point game, 16-17. An incredible basket by House put the scoreboard at 16-19 in Partizan's favor after 10 minutes.
Barca's reaction took its final shape in the second quarter as the hosts jumped ahead 22-21 on 5 straight points by Navarro. Partizan's defensive intensity had decreased, but the visitors managed still to find offense, at least for a while. Predrag Materic and Ilievski exchanged triples for a 30-28 Barca lead, but Navarro stepped up again with 4 more points in a row and Bodiroga sealed the run for a 36-30. House was the only reply available for Partizan against Navarro, hitting 2 free throws and dunking off a steal to pull his team within 36-34. Now that Barca faced pressure from the guests, Ilievski nailed his third triple of the night and Varejao added 2 free throws to boost Barca's lead again, to 43-36. The hosts would maintain the lead after Bodiroga sealed a great play on the halftime buzzer for a 45-37 Barca advantage at the break.
Even though the third quarter started well for Barcelona, with 6 points by Dueñas, Partizan struck back thanks to two men, Kecman and Krstic. The score went from 51-46 to 53-56 after 4 points by Kecman and 6by Krstic, with Ilievski making an acrobatic drive for Barca. Partizan had returned to its strong 2-3 zone defense of the first quarter, and the visitors' run reached 8-22 as Krstic hit a three-point play on a dunk for 11 points in the quarter. However, Kecman was called his fourth foul and Krstic had his counterpart in Dueñas, who sank a hook for 57-61 and kept Barca in the game. Another Krstic dunk put Partizan up 59-63 before Dueñas also soared for his 10th point of the quarter to leave the scoreboard at 61-63 after 30 minutes.
Krstic disappeared in the fourth quarter and even though Gerald Brown gave Partizan a four-point edge, with Bodiroga on court, Barcelona always managed to stay close. A spectacular fastbreak from Navarro to Rodriguez to Varejao set Palau Blaugrana on fire, but Vule Avdalovic and Ostojic tied the game again, 72-72. A Kecman triple made it 74-75, but Krstic missed 2 free throws before Navarro and Kecman traded triples that left Barca in front 81-80. Navarro added 2 free ethrows but Avdalovic tied the game with 90 seconds remaining, 83-83, on another triple. The scoring stopped there as De la Fuente missed a triple, House missed on the 24-second buzzer, Avdalovic charged in the closing seconds and Navarro's fullcourt game-winning attempt also missed the mark.
A fastbreak dunk by House early in overtime put Partizan ahead 84-87, but a monster triple by Ilievski tied the game again and gave Barca the decisive push. De la Fuente followed with a layup and Dueñas scored after a decisive offensive board for a 91-87 Barca edge that seemed decisive. Partizan players kept fouling out as Barcelona went on slow but steady thanks to free throws to lead by 93-87 and 14 seconds to go. Avdalovic scored again, but on the following play became the fifth Partizan player to foul out, after Ostojic, Materic, Krstic and Kecman. The had fought their best, but had another week to fight still for the Top 16.
Thursday, February 12, 2004