Euroleague holders Real stutter as six rivals advance
By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - 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 23-year old from Chicago, having racked up 24 points and seven rebounds.
Red Star's German center 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.