BELGRADE (Reuters) – Real Madrid, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and holders Maccabi Tel Aviv reached the Euroleague Top 16 with two games to spare after Thursday’s games produced some rip-roaring action in Europe’s premier club competition.
Real, winners of a record eight titles, beat Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod 101-98, Anadolu Efes earned a 66-57 victory at Lithuania’s Zalgiris Kaunas and Maccabi ground a 95-89 home win against Alba Berlin.
The Spanish side trailed a fired-up Nizhny after three quarters but turned the match thanks to solid free-throw shooting, nailing 35 of 41 attempts from the foul line including seven of the last eight in a dramatic finish.
“I have to give credit to the other team because Nizhny played a great game, scored lots of three-pointers and always found a way to come back in the final period,” Real coach Pablo Laso told www.euroleague.net.
“It was a great game and we are happy to be in the Top 16, but it’s still too early to start thinking about the title.”
Former Portland Trail Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez returned for Real with 11 points after a five-week absence through a finger injury but it was Sergio Rodriguez who led the visitors with 19 points and six assists.
Efes brushed aside 1999 winners Zalgiris who set a Euroleague record for the fewest points in a quarter, losing the opening period 16-2.
The hosts hit only 15 of 53 shots from the field and committed 14 turnovers as their late rally fell short.
Alba had five players who scored in double digits and briefly threatened to upset the champions before playmaker Jeremy Pargo hit two audacious three-pointers in the closing minutes.