Euroleague hold­ers Real stut­ter as six ri­vals ad­vance

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

BEL­GRADE: Euroleague hold­ers Real Madrid are star­ing at an early exit af­ter a dra­matic 94-88 de­feat at Red Star Bel­grade while six of their ri­vals reached the com­pe­ti­tion’s sec­ond group stage with three games to spare on Fri­day. Span­ish con­tenders Barcelona and Uni­caja Malaga, Rus­sians CSKA Moscow and Loko­mo­tiv Krasnodar as well as Fener­bahce Is­tan­bul and Olympiakos Pi­raeus all pro­gressed to the Top 16, fea­tur­ing two groups of eight teams. Real’s set­back at Red Star left them with a 2-5 record and fac­ing an up­hill bat­tle to stay in the hunt for a record-ex­tend­ing 10th ti­tle, af­ter the hosts swung the ab­sorb­ing con­test their way in front of a fer­vent 7,000 crowd.

“Th­ese are the best bas­ket­ball fans in the world and I just love how they got be­hind us tonight,” Red Star’s Amer­i­can for­ward Quincy Miller told Reuters af­ter a stand­ing ova­tion. “We played tough de­fense when we had to and this win will have boosted our con­fi­dence ahead of the last three games,” added the 23year old from Chicago, hav­ing racked up 24 points and seven re­bounds. Red Star’s Ger­man cen­tre Maik Zirbes, the game’s top scorer with 26 points, added: “It’s a great ac­com­plish­ment but our chances of ad­vanc­ing are still in the bal­ance and we have to keep up the good work.” A roller coaster af­fair, played in the caul­dron of the acous­tic Pionir Hall, saw Red Star throw away a 12-point lead mid­way through the first half and then over­come a 10-point deficit in the third quar­ter.

Ice cool

Miller was in­stru­men­tal in the win by nail­ing five three-point­ers from seven at­tempts to gal­va­nize the fans and Zirbes was ice cool from the free throw line in the home straight. Hav­ing the 24team com­pe­ti­tion’s most por­ous de­fense af­ter con­ced­ing 84.8 points per game in their open­ing six matches, Real again al­lowed their ri­vals too many open shots. Spain did have some­thing to cheer as Barcelona buried 17 of 26 three-point at­tempts in a 93-64 away rout of Poles Zielona Gora, while Uni­caja brushed aside Mac­cabi Tel Aviv 82-68.

Mac­cabi, with five ti­tles, have only a the­o­ret­i­cal chance of pro­gress­ing af­ter slip­ping to their sixth de­feat in seven games. CSKA edged Di­namo Sas­sari 9387 while Zal­giris Kau­nas, the 1999 win­ners, were also hum­bled by a Rus­sian side af­ter reg­is­ter­ing their low­est Euroleague tally in an 80-50 drub­bing at the hands of ir­re­press­ible Loko­mo­tiv. Usu­ally lethal from long range, Zal­giris hit only two of their 11 three-point at­tempts as the Rus­sian side’s steely de­fense sti­fled the Lithua­nian out­fit. Fener­bahce eased to an 81-64 home win over Stras­bourg, Czech cen­tre Jan Ve­sely tak­ing 20 points for the Turks, and Olympiakos over­pow­ered Lab­o­ral Kutxa Vi­to­ria 59-52 in a phys­i­cal con­test.—Reuters

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