Basketball PlayoffsThe best-of-five play-off series started with two games for teams with home-court advantage on Tuesday April 14, 2014 at Moscow and Istanbul. At Moscow, table toppers CSKA outplayed Panathinaikos Athens 93-66 to begin their campaign on a solid note. It was the Russian Club’s 16th win over the Greek Club in their 31 meetings so far. About half an hour later in Istanbul, Fenerbahce Ulker defeated defending champions Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv 80-72 at the Ulker Sports Arena. It was the Istanbul Club’s first-ever Euro-league playoff victory and they will now wait for the second match of the best-of-five playoffs series on Thursday, April 16, 2015. If they could sustain the momentum, they will make the defense of the title quite difficult for the reigning champions.

In the first play-off game of the current season, CSKA Moscow led straight from start. As the first quarter began, Milos Teodosic and Andrei Kirilenko made it 4-0 before Panathinaikos got on the scoreboard. CSKA had the control with Milos Teodosic scoring a three-pointer. For Panathinaikos, Vasilis Charalampopoulos kept it close with a triple but CSKA’s Sasha Kaun netted a pair of free throws and Batista scored a second time. Then Teodosic sliced through the Panathinaikos defense for a layup and assisted Andrey Vorontsevich for a three. Sonny Weems lobbed a perfect pass to Vorontsevich for an alley-oop slam that made it 16-7 after four minutes and prompted a Panathinaikos timeout. Vorontsevich also fed Kirilenko, who created a 9-0 run. With CSKA dominating the game, Panathinaikos reduced the margin through DeMarcus Nelson and Mavrokefalidis. But Sasha Kaun kept CSKA in the lead. For Panathinaikos, Nikos Pappas drained a pair of threes to keep the lead within 5 points. CSKA’s Teodosic and Nando De Colo ensured that the first quarter ended at 29-21 in the home team’s favor. In the second quarter, De Colo’s baskets created double-digit advantage for CSKA. The game became furious in this quarter with some great play from both sides. But the early advantage worked for CSKA despite Panathinaikos doing their best and the halftime score was 56-27.

In third quarter, Pappas and Batista looked like taking Panathinaikos to an advantageous position but Shasha Kaun and Jackson played remarkably to ensure a 30-point lead for the home team. The pace quickened with Gist, Pappas and Charalampopoulos moving furiously to reduce the deficit for Panathinaikos. After a timeout call by CSKA, Milos Teodosic came back and began in his usual dynamic way by a scoring a pair of threes. Kirilenko assisted Pavel Korobkov for a dunk and De Colo delivered a no-look pass to Korobkov for a 12-0 run and the quarter ended at 77-42. The fourth quarter will be remembered for Panathinaikos’s 16-year old debutant Michailis Lountzis. He began his career by scoring early and providing an assist on a Giankovits three-pointer. But CSKA’s dominance continued with Weems making a step-back jumper for his first points. Midway through the quarter the score reached 84-54 and there was no way Panathinaikos could come back in the match as the final minutes approached and CSKA romped home with a 93-66 lopsided victory.

In the second play-off game at Istanbul, hosts Fenerbahce Ulker defeated last season’s champions Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv 80-72 at the Ulker Sports Arena. The second game for these two teams will also be held at Istanbul on Thursday and the hosts will strive to continue the momentum. On Tuesday, however, Fenerbahce trailed Maccabi in the first two quarters until a late third quarter rally took the hosts narrowly ahead. The critical moment came in an 11-minute period between the third and fourth quarters as game swung both ways by as much as a total of 20 points. Alex Tyus had ensured that Maccabi still led 56-46 with four minutes to go in the third quarter. Suddenly the game came alove as Luka Zoric scored 6 straight points to trigger an 11-0 run and Andrew Goudelock gave Fenerbahce its first lead at 59-58. The momentum continued in the fourth quarter as Kenan Sipahi began with a three and Fenerbahce looked like pulling away. But Jeremy Pargo was still scoring and he ensured that Maccabi stayed within 5 points with five minutes remaining in the match. For Fenerbahce, Jan Vesely scored 8 points in the final 4 minutes and the home team snatched a thrilling victory from the reigning champions.