In a midseason classic, Maccabi roared into the Top 16 and first place in Group B simultaneously when it downed visiting Efes Pilsen 88-81 at home in Tel Aviv on Thursday. Maccabi improved to 8-3, climbed to the top spot in the Group B standings and sealed its ticket to the next round, while Efes dropped to 7-4 but might also qualify to the Top 16 depending on other Week 10 results. Maceo Baston led the winners with 25 points on 12-for-16 shooting and Will Solomon added 22 points and 8 assists. Nikola Vujcic had 16 points and 9 rebounds, Tal Burstein had 12 points and 8 rebounds while Anthony Parker added 11 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists for Maccabi, whose starters combined for 86 points. Henry Domercant had 16 points for Efes, Kaya Peker added 15 while Marko Popovic and Nikola Prkacin each scored 14 for the guests, who led 41-45 at halftime. Maccabi used a 20-4 run bridging the last two quarters to seal the win long before the final buzzer.
Maccabi won the tip and went straight to the basket as Solomon fed Vujcic for a dunk. Parker added a pull-up jumper before Domercant put Efes on the board from outside. After some nice work inside from Peker, the visitors led 4-5, but then Solomon got hot. The Maccabi guard scored on three straight possessions – including a pull-up triple on a fastbreak – to shoot the hosts ahead 11-5. Just as it seemed Maccabi would pull away, an Antonio Granger triple followed by a Peker three-point play tied things up. Solomon and Granger traded baskets before the next Maccabi mini-run - a pair of three-point plays from Parker and Vujcic. Then it was Domercant's turn. His triple and long jumper kept his team within a basket until Tal Burstein and Baston expanded Maccabi lead to 25-20 after 10 minutes.
The pace dropped a bit in the second quarter – just the way Efes likes it – and the Turkish champs took advantage. It took over a minute before Baston slammed in the quarter's first points with a powerful one-hand dunk, but then the visitors took over. A beautiful Domercant fade-away jumper, followed by one from Granger and Kerem Gonlum's tip-in set the stage for Marko Popovic, to give Efes its first lead since the opening minute of the game, 28-29, on a triple, his first points. Baston quickly put Maccabi back on top and Parker's slam increased the lead, but Cenk Akyol game off the bench to drill a triple and keep Efes close. After a pair of Burstein free throws, Gonlum scored inside and then Prkacin put Efes ahead 39-40. Solomon's jumper returned the lead to the hosts, but only temporarily. Prkacin hit free throws and then after a Maccabi mixup under the basket, Popovic raced downcourt to drill a three-pointer on the halftime buzzer, leaving Efes in front 41-45.
Prkacin's strong play from the end of the first half continued into the third quarter as two quick hoops put Efes on top 44-49. But when Maccabi decided it was time to stop him, the rest of the team stopped scoring. Maccabi held Efes scoreless for the next three minutes, during which it scored 10 unanswered points to take a 5-point lead. Gonlum finally scored for Efes off the offensive glass and then Povopic took over the scoring reigns. He scored on three straight trips downcourt to bring his team within 58-57. This time Parker turned playmaker and set up Baston for two slams – the second a pretty alley-oop where Parker set up in the corner and threw the ball to a cutting Baston on the baseline that thrilled the crowd and put the hosts ahead 66-59. Gonlum cut to the basket to beat the buzzer and keep Efes within 68-61 after three.
Efes couldn't get things going in the fourth. First Prkacin was whistled for an offensive foul, then Domercant missed a mid-range jumper and even a Gonlum steal resulted in a traveling call. Parker hit a long fade-away to gibe Maccabi a 9-point lead and when Popovic scored for Efes, Burstein raced down for a Maccabi bucket. Perhaps the prettiest play of the night didn't result in points when Baston leaped to swat a Gonlum attempt, Solomon switched gears in midair to save the ball from going out of bounds and tapped the ball to Parker, who bounced the ball towards the basket but then lost control and booted it out of bounds. On the next play Baston blocked Prkacin and Maccabi started to run. Baston's intimidating presence kept the visitors from going inside and when the jumpers stopped falling, Efes was in trouble. Vujcic scored twice during a 12-0 run, during which Solomon and Baston also made their presence felt, as Tel Aviv surged to 82-63. Peker ended the run with a triple from the top of the key with four minutes left. Parker was then called for an unsportmanlike foul on Peker, who made two free throws and then two more on the resulting possession that closed the gap to 84-72. Maccabi suddenly had trouble finding the basket as both Burstein and Vujcic missed open shots and Domercant and Peker scored. But then Vujcic found Baston with a minute remaining and Solomon took a steal to coast-to-coast to kill off any chance of a late Efes comeback. Still Domercant added a three, but it was too little, too late as Maccabi held on for an 88-81 win.
Thursday, January 19, 2006