Not much is now left in the originally scheduled best-of-five playoff series of the Turkish Airlines Euro-League Basketball. True to their form this season, Fenerbahce Istanbul defeated 2015 champions Real Madrid 3-0 on Tuesday and booked their place for Berlin’s Final Four. On Monday, CSKA Moscow had already secured their Final Four berth with a road victory over Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade. The third team completing the 3-0 playoff sweep on Tuesday was Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz, who also scored a road victory over six time champions Panathinaikos Athens. The fourth playoff series is yet to be decided but FC Barcelona Lassa have taken a 2-1 lead over Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar after three games. They play their next game on Thursday and if necessary again on April 26. This year’s competition is now down to the last five teams, three of which will certainly go to Berlin’s Alexanderplatz for European basketball’s most eagerly awaited annual event beginning on May 13, 2016.
CSKA Moscow were the first to qualify for Final Four on Monday, when they defeated Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade 78-71 at the Kombank Arena in Belgrade. CSKA thus made the Final Four for the fifth consecutive year. In the last 14 years, CSKA Moscow have missed the Final Four just once in 2011, when they were absent at Barcelona. Zvezda fought hard and didn’t allow CSKA to have a free reign throughout the match. The hosts trailed by a 12-point margin in fourth quarter but rallied to come within a solitary point with under 4 minutes remaining. However, CSKA stars Nikita Kurbanov, Cory Higgins and Nando De Colo scored their threes to ice the game. De Colo top-scored with 20 points, while Milos Teodosic added 12 more with 7 assists. For Zvezda, Quincy Miller scored 15. It was the first time that Zvezda had progressed to the playoff stage in Euro-League basketball.
The next team to join CSKA in Final Four was Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz, who defeated six time champions Panathinaikos Athens 84-75 at Athens’ Olympic Sports Center. It was Laboral’s first Final Four after a gap of 8 years. The match remained a back-and-forth battle until the last 8 minutes, when Laboral scored from 7 out of 8 three-pointers. Top scorer Darius Adam produced 14 of his 24 points in the last quarter to help Laboral punch the Berlin ticket. Mike James also added 20 points. This was the fourth straight season that Panathinaikos have failed to enter the Final Four. The Greek team had an added disappointment since the legendary Dimitris Diamantidis will now retire without playing another Euro-league game.
Next to enter the Final Four on Tuesday were Fenerbahce Istanbul, who have had one of the best Euro-League outings this season. Fenerbahce completed the 3-game sweep by taming defending champions Real Madrid in their own den. Madrid fans at Barclaycard Center had hoped for some miracle from their heroes but Fenerbahce carried their tournament momentum to another match win nd beat the hosts 75-63. For the second year running, Fenerbahce have entered the Final Four and this time they look like champions. As for Real Madrid, they miss the Final Four after three consecutive championship game appearances. All Fenerbahce stars excelled in the third playoff game with Bogdan Bogdanovic scoring all of his 17 points in the second half. Ekpe Udoh added 15 with 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. But the hosts did put up a brave fight and trailed only by 3 at halftime. Then early in third quarter, Madrid went into the lead but that didn’t last long as Fenerbahce began a 14-0 run in which Bogdanovic scored 8. After this Madrid couldn’t come near and had to go out of Final Four contention.
The only playoff series that will at least see a fourth game is one between FC Barcelona Lassa and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. After Lokomotiv took the lead in the first game, Barcelona leveled 1-1 and now they have made it 2-1 by an 82-70 home win at Palau Blaugrana on Tuesday. The next game is also at Palau Blaugrana and Barcelona have a chance to finish the proceedings on Thursday. On Tuesday, Barcelona shot into the lead straightaway. Alex Abrines produced a superlative performance with a career-high 25 points on 6-of-10 three-point shooting. Abrines’s fine show took Barcelona to a halftime lead of 42-36. The lead went into double digits in third quarter boosted by Abrines, Justin Doellman and Tomas Satoransky. Although Lokomotiv cut the deficit somewhat, they couldn’t pose any threat to the hosts. Should Lokomotiv win on Thursday, the two teams will be pushed to the final playoff game scheduled for Tuesday April 26 at Krasnodar City’s famous Basket Hall Arena.
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