Sloukas lets Fenerbahce stay perfect at home
Kostas Sloukas beat the final buzzer with a triple to give Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul an exciting 78-75 win over visiting Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv in the last regular season game for both teams on Friday. The shot meant that Fenerbahce finished 25-5, the best record yet under the new format, and completed a perfect 15-0 run at home, another first. Maccabi, which new on Thursday night that it had been eliminated from the playoffs race, finished with a 14-16 record in 10th place. Sloukas paced the winners with 22 points, while Luigi Datome had 17 and Marko Guduric 13. Tarik Black had 23 points on 10-for-12 two-point shooting for Maccabi. Scottie Wilbekin scored 13 more and Deni Avdija 10. It was a back-and-forth battle that Maccabi owned for much of the second half after going on a 0-10 run out of intermission, but Fenerbahce inched its way back until Sloukas could decide it despite first falling down on the final play.
With the Fenerbahce centers Jan Vesey and Joffrey Lauvergne both out of action, Maccabi went inside early and often to Black, who powered his team to leads as high as 8-14. Triples by Datome and Sloukas helped Fenerbahce end the first quarter all square, 20-20. The same Fenerbahce duo scored the first 5 points of the second quarter before the lead went back and forth and Deni Avdija made his presence felt with 2 triples among 8 points to keep Maccabi within 34-33. Datome and Black took over the scoring from there as the score returned to even, 41-41, at the half. Black, Scottie Wilbekin and Johnny O'Bryant fueled a 0-10 run to a 41-51 lead after the break for Maccabi. Fenerbahce closed the gap to 49-55 on free throws by Datome. Fenerbahce went cold from outside and let Maccabi take 2 offensive rebounds to score on the last possession of the third quarter for a 51-59 advantage. A transition triple by Sloukas opened the final quarter, then Datome, Nicolo Melli and Marko Guduric joined the fun as Fenerbahce closed within 60-61. Michael Roll's second consecutive baskets gave Maccabi fresh air, but Guduric drilled from the corner at 63-63. Mehli Mahmutoglu took the honor of putting Fenerbahce ahead, hitting 3 free throws on an unsportsmanlike foul by O'Bryant and a technical on Maccabi coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos. Mahmutoglu then drilled a jumper for 5 points in 7 seconds total. When Guduric added free throws, it was 70-63. But Maccabi wouldn't say die. Black came back for 4 quick points before John DiBartolomeo drilled a game-tying triple and a free throw for a new lead, 70-71, with 2 minutes left. Sloukas drove for a go-ahead layup that Black answered with the same. Sloukas did it again, and after both O'Bryant hit Melli split free throws, it was 75-74 with 30 seconds left. Pargo also hit 1 of 2 to tie, leaving the last possession for Fenerbahce. Sloukas slipped with the ball, but got it back and measured from deep over Avdija, sending the Ulker Sports and Event Hall crowd into euphoria to end a stellar regular season on the right foot before the playoffs.
More Fenerbahce firsts
In addition to becoming the earliest EuroLeague Playoffs qualifier ever back on February 8, Fenerbahce added feathers to its cap by becoming the first undefeated team at home after a 30-game regular season and securing the best record after a regular season, 25-5. Fenerbahce's 15-0 record at home was one better than Real Madrid's 14-1 in the 2016-17 season and CSKA Moscow's same home mark last season, when it finished 24-6, the previous best overall finish.
The kids are alright
In a game with no consequences for either team, a couple of 21st century teens got some extra minutes. Tarik Biberovic of Fenerbahce and Deni Avdija of Maccabi, both 18 and born in the same month of January, 2001, hit the floor early. Avdija got the best of the numbers, posting 10 points and 5 rebounds in 18 minutes, but had to watch Sloukas hit the game-winner over him. Biberovic downed a single free throw in 10 minutes of first-half play but got a handshake and pat on the head from the best in the business, his coach Zeljko Obradovic, as he came off the floor.
In the absence of two centers, Fenerbahce's forwards had to do a lot of inside work. Luigi Datome played center a lot, while Nikola Kalinic took a career-high 11 rebounds, 3 more than his previous best, in 30 minutes. He also scored 5 points to put him over 1,000 for his EuroLeague career.
Fenerbahce takes its first-place standing into the playoffs by hosting Zalgiris Kaunas in Game 1 on Tuesday, April 16. Maccabi, which recovered from a 5-10 start to stay in the race until the next-to-last night of the season, will be back next season to try to complete its mission.
Friday, April 5, 2019