Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv started the fourth quarter with a 12-0 run to come back and steal a 76-73 win from Panathinaikos on Thursday night at Nokia Arena. The win gave Maccabi second place at the end of the regular season and handed Panathinaikos, which had already clinched the Group B crown, its third straight defeat. Maccabi won its 15th straight home game to finish the season 8-6 and will be a No. 2 seed in the Top 16 draw. The Greens, who started the season with 11 straight wins, wind up 11-3. Derrick Sharp scored 18 points – including a number of key baskets – to lead Maccabi. Yotam Halperin added 10 and Nikola Vujcic posted 9 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Dimitrios Diamantidis had 17 for the Greek champs, Ramunas Siskauskas scored 12 – all in the first half – Sani Becirovic scored 12 and Kostas Tsartsaris posted 9 points and 11 rebounds. Panathinaikos was the hot team early, as Siskauskas fired away to give his team a 10-23 lead. Jamie Arnold helped Maccabi climb back in the second and eventually tie the score, but the visitors held a 33-37 halftime lead. Dejan Tomasevic and Becirovic helped the visitors get back to 49-59. Sharp ended the third with a three and Maccabi scored the first 12 of the fourth as the visitors attack dried up. The visitors remained within striking distance until the final minute, but a ny chance Panathinaikos still had to win disappeared when coach Zeljko Obradovic was whistled for a technical foul with 27 seconds left. Sharp went to the line, put Maccabi up 6 and the local fans celebrated a perfect regular season at home.
Panathinaikos won the opening tip and took the early lead on Siskauskas's penetration. Tony Delk's jumper made it 4-0 before Vujcic fed Tal Burstein for a triple for Maccabi's first points. Siskauskas and Diamantidis fired in threes and Siskauskas added a hook to put the Greens up 5-12. Demos Dikoudis completed a 0-9 run from the line before Vujcic scored his first points. But a red-hot Siskauskas drilled another triple to establish a 10-point Panathinaikos lead. Sharp's powerful cut in traffic didn’t inspire many anyone as Maccabi remained droopy. Tsartsaris came off the bench for a free throw and then a jumper as the visitors went ahead 10-23. Yaniv Green corrected Halperin's miss in the final minutes to make it 12-24 after 10 minutes.
Arnold's wild layup a minute-and-a-half into the second period drew an unsportsmanlike foul call as well, which was followed by a Halperin triple that made it 19-24 and awoke the Maccabi crowd. Newcomer Goran Jeretin made his Maccabi debut, but committed fouls on the next two possessions. Becirovic scored for Panathinaikos, but Arnold set up inside with a reverse layup and later a tip-in to cut the gap to 3. Tsartsaris and Halperin swapped threes before Jeretin drew a foul from Milos Vujanic, went to the line and tied the score at 29-29 with his first Maccabi points. Vujcic came back after a lengthy rest and gave Maccabi its first lead from the line and then hit a mid-range jumper to make it 30-33, causing Obradovic to call timeout. Siskauskas came out and fired in a jumper from the top of the key. After Vujcic missed two from the line, Diamantidis made a triple and Tsartsaris dunked in transition for a 0-7 spurt that quieted the arena and ended the half with the visitors on top 33-37.
Both teams came out for the second half somewhat cold, as they missed easy shots and turned the ball over multiple times before Vujcic fed Burstein for a layup after more than 2 minutes. A minute later, Halperin tied the score at 37-37 with a long jumper. Becirovic ended the Greens' 4-minute scoring drought with a jumper and free throws from Diamantidis and Tomasevic increased Panathinaikos's lead to 5. Green scored a three-point play, but Tomasevic and Becirovic came right back with free throws and Vujanic drilled a triple to make it 42-51. Sharp answered with a three, but Fragiskos Alvertis popped one in on the other end to keep the Greek champs up 9. Sharon Shason fouled Vujanic and Maccabi coach Neven Spahija received a technical for arguing. After Vujanic was done at the line, Panathinaikos led 49-59. But Sharp nailed a last-ditch triple to remain in the picture at 52-59 after 30 minutes.
Sharp continued to lead the Maccabi charge as he stole the ball from Vujanic and drew a foul from Dusan Sakota to make two at the line. Will Bynum's first basket of the night cut the gap to 3 and and his first free throws made it 1. Panathinaikos was giving Maccabi every opportunity to win the game, as the visitors remained ice-cold on offense. Vujcic tied the score at 59-59 from the line and on the next play, Burstein was fouled and made two to stretch the run to 9-0 and give the hosts the lead. After another Panathinaikos timeout, Bynum drilled a triple and Obradovic needed a timeout with Maccabi leading 64-59. Diamantidis finally ended a 5-minute drought with a three-point play, but Maccabi was back in charge now. Eliyahu scored a basket-plus-foul on the offensive glass and after a Becirovic jumper, Eliyahu scored once more inside to make it 69-64. But Diamantidis clawed Panathinaikos back with two from the line. But the Greens' offense simply wasn't functioning in the fourth quarter. Becirovic missed a jumper and then committed his fifth foul on Halperin, who made it 72-66 from the line with 2:35 remaining. Diamantidis missed a triple and Vujcic banked one in on the other side to the delight of the crowd. Tomasevic made it 74-70 with 65 seconds on the clock and after a missed Halperin three, Eliyahu swatted what looked like a certain basket for Tomasevic. But Obradovic received a technical foul arguing a call with 27 seconds left and Sharp sealed the win from the line.
Thursday, February 1, 2007