A career night from Gianluca Basile led AXA FC Barcelona to an 83-74 win over Maccabi Elite on Thursday night at the Palau Blaugrana in Game 2 of the team’s Euroleague Basketball Quarterfinal Playoffs series. The third and deciding game of the best-of-three series will take place next Thursday at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv with the winner assured of a ticket to Madrid for the 2008 Final Four, while the winner will finish his season. Basile was simply red hot for Barca, finishing with a career-high 34 points, which also matches Luis Scola’s record for the most points scored in a quarterfinal game. The 33-year-old Basile was simply unguardable and more than made up for another off night from the team’s leading scorer, Jaka Lakovic, who finished scoreless. Pepe Sanchez and Roger Grimau added 11 points apiece and Fran Vazquez posted 8 points and 10 rebounds for the winners. Omri Casspi recorded career-highs of 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead Maccabi. Terence Morris added 16 points and 11 boards and Will Bynum scored 13 in defeat. The game was even for 10 minutes, but a 10-0 Barca run capped by a Sanchez to Mario Kasun alley-oop slam gave the hosts the lead for good in the second period. Maccabi continued to challenge, sticking at 43-37 at halftime and getting within 1 in the third quarter, but Basile was always there to answer whether with a clutch three-pointer or a running layup, leaving the Israeli champs no real chance and setting up a dramatic Game 3 for next week.
Ersan Ilyasova got Barcelona going with a put-back basket, but Morris immediately answered with a long jumper for a 2-3 Maccabi edge. Barcelona attacked the baskets in the early going, as free throws by Denis Marconato and Alex Acker put the hosts ahead, 5-2. Halperin struck from downtown, but a long two-pointer by Basile and a wild reverse layup by Acker gave Barcelona a 9-5 edge. Morris kept pacing Maccabi with a triple and Casspi shined with a big block on Ilyasova. Nikols Vujcic provided a highlight with a behind-the-back assist to Casspi but a jumper by Basile helped Barcelona regain the lead, 11-10. Maccabi had already adjusted its defense and free throws by Casspi put the guests back ahead, 11-13. Acker sank a jumper and after a red-hot Casspi threw down a slam, a driving layup by Basile tied it at 15-15. Maccabi struggled to score now while Basile buried a seven-meter bomb for an 18-16 Barcelona edge. Morris banked in a short jumper, but Pepe Sanchez bettered him with a three-pointer. Bynum scored in transition before Casspi added a put-back layup for a 21-22 Maccabi edge. A five-meter shot by Vazquez restored a 23-22 Barcelona lead after 10 minutes.
Both teams exchanged missed shots and turnovers early in the second quarter until Grimau fed Mario Kasun for an alley-oop dunk. Maccabi had been scoreless for more than two minutes when a fast break layup by Basile caused the guests to call timeout at 27-22. Sanchez provided a highlight with an outstanding driving layup before another alley-oop dunk by Kasun capped a 10-0 run for a 31-22 Barcelona lead. Esteban Batista stepped up with a free throw that Morris followed with a put-back dunk to bring Maccabi back to life, 31-25. Morris scored again under the basket and then Tal Burstein stepped on court for the first time this season. Kasun hit free throws and Grimau added a driving layup to keep the hosts out of trouble, 35-27. Vujcic found his first points on a jump hook, but Sanchez struck again from downtown. Morris remained unstoppable in the paint and Bynum followed a fast break layup with a three-point play to bring Maccabi back to life at 38-36. Gary Neal sank a running jumper, but Barcelona started missing shots despite dominating the offensive glass. Yotam Halperin shot from midcourt with 10 seconds to go, allowing Basile to beat the buzzer with a triple and make it 43-37 at halftime.
Barcelona tried to get Kasun and Vazquez involved without much success right after the break, while Maccabi opted to slow down the game tempo. Vujcic fired in a triple from the top of the key, but a tip-in by Vazquez gave Barcelona a 45-40 edge. Casspi took over with a huge put-back dunk and Morris scored again in the paint to make it a 1-point game. Basile stepped up with a fast break layup that Vujcic erased with a reverse basket. Basile kept pacing Barcelona with his trademark step-back triple, as Barcelona was more focused at both ends now, with incredible intensity on defense. Vazquez shined with another tip-in and Basile added a running three-pointer that made Maccabi ask for a timeout at 55-46. Casspi sank a triple from the left corner and even though Kasun answered with free throws, he scored again to get Maccabi within 57-51. Basile and Grimau sank foul shots to give Barcelona its first double-digit margin, 61-51. Lior Eliyahu hit a floating layup and Esteban Batista added an acrobatic basket, but Basile buried his fifth bomb from downtown for a 64-55 Barcelona lead. Bynum beat the buzzer with an oustanding triple to bring Maccabi within 64-58 after three quarters.
Basile fed Vazquez for a baseline jumper right at the start of the fourth quarter and then buried yet another three-pointer to make it 69-58. It was do-or-die time for Maccabi, but Barcelona was all over the place on defense. Grimau made free throws, but Batista banked in a close jumper after a Maccabi timeout. Basile remained unstoppable with free throws, only Eliyahu answered in the same way. Derrick Sharp nailed a triple, but the ever-present Basile took over with a fast break layup. Sanchez buried his third three-pointer and even when Bynum scored again, Barcelona was at a different level now on defense. Vujcic sank a six-meter jumper to give Maccabi some hope, 78-69, with four minutes remaining. Grimau set the crowd on fire with a wide-open triple and a block by Basile on Sharp that finished with all the guests' hopes. Maccabi kept trying, however, and Sharp took revenge with a seven-meter bomb, but Grimau shined with a driving layup and added free throws to make all Barcelona fans start celebrating. Barcelona stayed alive and both teams will be back to Tel Aviv in a make-or-break showdown for a Final Four berth!
Thursday, April 3, 2008