The Euroleague Regular Season is over and we will move into the Top 16 after the Christmas break as Friday’s action brought the curtain down on this stage of the tournament. While many of the Top 16 places were up for grabs, there were still some places to play for and in a dramatic final day the Euroleague delivered as Nizhny and Zalgiris edged into the next round.
Nail biting tension was the order of the day in Group A as the final two Top 16 places were decided, with plenty of thrills, and the occasional spill along the way. Russian clubs Nizhny Novgorod and Unics Kazan clashed in a do or die contest that would see one of the teams progress. In the end Nizhny triumphed with a 78-74 home success and punched its ticket to the Top 16 for the first time in its history.
Unics held a 35-42 lead at the midway buzzer, but Nizhny went hot behind the big scoring of Tarence Kinsey to turn it around in the second half. Kinsey was responsible for 23 points for the hosts, while he was a defensive menace too with five D boards (6 overall). Keith Langford was his normal potent self with 24 points and 10 rebounds for Unics, the only double-double of the contest, but it was not enough as Nizhny progressed with a superior head to head (both teams locked at 5-5).
Another team sitting on 5-5 at the end of the Euroleague Regular Season is Zalgiris Kaunas, but the club progressed to the Top 16 with an 80-79 home win over Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari. The Lithuanian powerhouse were on the edge of going out, but snatched victory at the death to progress in third place thanks to a better head to head record over both Nizhny and Unics.
Zalgiris went huge in a phenomenal first half and by time the long break came the hosts had control at 49-37. Sassari clawed their way back into it during an explosive third quarter, before moving 9 points in front in the final act. Zalgiris was on the way out with 2.5 seconds left on the clock, trailing by two points (77-79).
However, James Anderson drained from beyond the arc, a huge three point play that defied the buzzer and sent Zalgiris through. Anderson was the offensive architect behind Zalgiris with 26 points, and he was deserving of the game winning bucket.
In Group B, ALBA Berlin fell at home to Cedevita Zagreb, but both clubs’ destinies had already been decided, with ALBA progressing to the Top 16 in fourth, while Cedevita heads to the Eurocup. There were a couple of tasty clashes in Group C, starting with Barcelona wrapping up first place in the standings with a 9-1 record after outgunning Panathinaikos 67-80 on the road. Both teams will take their place in the next round regardless, but it was a good end to a formidable Regular Season from Barca.
Fenerbahce’s assault on first place ended despite the Turkish team overcoming Bayern Munich 87-81 at home. Fener led for much of the game as Bogdan Bogdanovic led the scoring for the hosts with 16 points, although Bayern gave a lesson in keeping Fenerbahce playmaker Andrew Goudelock quiet as the American only added 4 points. In Group D Serbian heavyweight Crvena Zvezda Belgrade capped is wonderful Euroleague campaign so far by ensuring second place in the group. Red Star defeated already qualified Laboral Kutxa Vitoria to stop the Spanish team taking the position in the standings.