Champion CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos will clash in tonight's Euroleague final after disposing of Spanish opposition on Friday.
CSKA recorded a 62-50 victory over Unicaja Malaga while Panathinaikos, eyeing its fourth European crown in 11 years, outplayed Tau Ceramica 67-53.
The Moscow team needed a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to shake off the Spaniards after both teams had started badly, failing to score for more than two minutes.
Guard Theodoros Papaloukas came on to add stability to CSKA's attacks but the defense could do little to stop Unicaja's fast breaks.
CSKA had a three-point advantage after the first quarter, with center David Andersen following up on a missed shot.
Papaloukas's three-pointer opened up a 30-24 lead, and the Russians ended the first half with three more consecutive points to lead by nine.
Unicaja came out strongly after the break, scoring 10 points including two three-pointers by Carlos Cabezas to stun the Russians.
The Spaniards went ahead 42-41 before ending the third quarter level at 44-44.
But CSKA then notched 14 unanswered points to run away with the final session.
"We were expected to win big and that brings added pressure. We struggled against their speed and aggression," CSKA coach Ettore Messina told reporters.
Panathinaikos, in front of a fiery home crowd, played a near-perfect defensive game in the first half to limit Tau, seeking its second final appearance in three years, to 21 points.
The Greeks opened up with a Dimitris Diamantidis three-pointer and raced into an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Panathinaikos were shut out for most of the second session although frenzied defending against Luis Scola and Kaya Peker helped to extend their advantage to 14 points at halftime.
Tau, who lost the 2005 final, capitalized on a second-half slump by Panathinaikos to narrow the deficit to six points with a spectacular Serkan Erdogan three-pointer.
But Michael Batiste replied with five points, including a three-pointer, to kill off Tau's hopes.
Both coaches said defense would be key to victory tonight.
CSKA's Ettore Messina, looking for his fourth title and second with Moscow - his previous two came with Virtus Bologna - emphasized the importance of stopping Panathinaikos from creating offensive opportunities.
"We will be playing against a side that has a much greater scoring ability than we have so we have to close them down," he said.
Panathinaikos coach Zelimir Obradovic - a winner of a record five titles, with four different clubs - pointed to the proven quality of the reigning champion.
"Everyone knows what CSKA means in Europe. It means quality," he said. "Theywill be a very tough team to beat."
"I think these are the best two teams in Europe hands down but it is defense that wins championships so we will be focusing on that on Sunday," said Panathinaikos forward Batiste, who scored 15 points.
Malaga faces Tau in all-Spanish third place match.
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