Maccabi Tel Aviv began the next phase of its Euroleague title defense with a masterly 90-59 victory over visiting Ulker Istanbul on Thursday in the opening game for both teams in Top 16 Group D. Maccabi overcame Ulker's tough defense with some of its own to take a 1-0 record. Ulker starts Group D at 0-1, but its main concern after the game was power forward Kerem Gonlum, who had to be carried off the floor on a stretcher after suffering an injury late in the game. The memory of Ulker having been as close as 4 points at halftime was gone by then, having disappeared under the inspiration of Maccabi point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, who steered his team to big leads throughout the second half. Jasikevicius finished with a team-high 21 points and a double-double that included 10 often spectacular assists. Maceo Baston added 17 points, Tal Burstein 15 and Deon Thomas 11 for the winners. Ulker got 14 points from Serkan Erdogan, 12 from newcomer Dusan Vukcevic, 11 from Kerem Tunceri and 10 from Eurelijus Zukauskas.
Ulker played with tremendous confidence from the opening tip as it built a 7-1 lead. By slowing down the pace and feeding Eurelijus Zukauskas inside on the first two possessions, the visitors opened up opportunities for Serkan Erdogan to slash to the basket and for Dusan Vukcevic - who came on early when Saulius Stombergas took an elbow in the face - to make the outside shots. Zukauskas also played an intimidating role on defense, forcing Maccabi's inside players to lose confidence. Eventually, Jasikevicius got the hosts rolling, feeding Deon Thomas insdide and then popping a three-pointer to tie the score at 13-13. Ulker stuck with its gameplan, however, and scored the next 7 points, capped by a triple from Kerem Tunceri. Maccabi never let up, either, and when Jasikevicius set up Thomas again for a dunk, the quarter ended 22-25.
After starting the second quarter with a pair of misses from beyond the arc, Maccabi suddenly found its scoring touch and reeled off 8 unanswered points, taking its first lead on a jumper by Parker. Zukauskas, on the bench for most of Maccabi's run, returned and ended his team's drought from the foul line, but Maccabi pushed ahead to three different leads of 5 points each as Yaniv Green and Tal Burstein joined in the offense. Stombergas was back to help Ulker, however, and along with free throws by Tunceri and a triple landed by Erdogan, the turned Maccabi's brief lead into a 38-38 tie. After a brief spell on the bench, Jasikevicius came back to hit a short jumper and then lead a fastbreak that resulted in a slam by Parker slam as Maccabi took a 42-38 halftime advantage.
Halftime seemed to recharge Maccabi, but not Ulker, which committed a pair of turnovers in the first 2 minutes and missed its first three shots while Maccabi stretched its lead to 11 points on baskets by Jasikevicius, Nikola Vujcic and Burstein. Erdogan and Vukcevic would hit triples before the middle of the courter, but Maccabi had more players involved int eh offense and retained a 54-46 advantage. Ulker's turnovers and missed shots mounted during a two-minute scoreless spell after which Maccabi led 60-46. Virginijus Praskevicius hit a couple shots, including an open three-pointer from the corner, but Maccabi was still able to retain a double-digit lead, 62-51, after 30 minutes.
Jasikevicius turned the fourth quarter into showtime, with a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Vujcic for a fastbreak slam and a three-pointer of his own. On the other end, Maccabi was often able to deny Zukauskas the ball and without him to draw the defense inwards, Ulker's perimeter offense suffered as well. Maccabi's confidence grew, which led to poor Ulker shots and transition hoops for the hosts. Burstein thrilled the crowd with a dunk, then Jasikevicius pulled up for a tripel, found Baston for an alley-oop and brought down the house with another no-look pass for a Baston slam as part of a 15-0 run that made it 82-56. Despite scoring only 8 points in the quarter, Ulker's basketball concerns turned to health concerns as Gonlum was hurt with 3 minutes left in the game and had to be taken off the floor on a stretcher.
Thursday, February 24, 2005