Since signing Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi before the 2006-07 European season (and adding Lauren Jackson in time for the Russian Superleague Playoffs), Spartak Moscow Region had won basically every critical game the franchise played en route to three Euroleague championships and back-to-back Superleague titles. That streak finally came to an end Tuesday, when UMMC Ekaterinburg defeated Spartak 70-68 in the deciding Game 3 of their series with the Superleague championship on the line.
Predictably, it wasn’t easy for Ekaterinburg despite home-court advantage. UMMC built up a 19-point halftime lead only to give it almost all back in the third quarter. Spartak took the lead early in the fourth period, and from there a defensive battle was on. For more than five minutes, neither team made a field goal, with Sylvia Fowles‘ free throw with 1:40 left tying the score. The teams traded three straight turnovers, followed by a Bird miss, to remain level.
Ekaterinburg finally broke through with less than a second to play. Sandrine Gruda rebounded an Agnieszka Bibrzycka miss from beyond the three-point line and fed Biba, who scored with 0.9 seconds on the clock. Bird’s desperation pass was intercepted by Svetlana Abrosimova, and Ekaterinburg had the crown.
In a game marked by strong defense, Jackson was the only player to shoot the ball well from the perimeter. Four of her five field goals were three-pointers, and she finished with 14 points. Taurasi’s 17 led Spartak, which missed its leader when she fouled out with 4:25 to play. Bird scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out four assists.
Maria Stepanova powered Ekaterinburg with 18 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 8-for-14 from the field. Spartak’s defense kept Cappie Pondexter (10 points on 3-of-13 shooting) quiet, but Bibrzycka stepped up to score 17 points and shoot 8-of-14.
With the season over, Bird will be headed back to the U.S. for some quick time off before reporting to the Storm’s training camp. Jackson gets to head home to Australia, having indicated her plans to discuss where to play the 2009 season with her parents before making a final decision.