Tau Ceramica started the Top 16 on the right foot with an impressive 68-79 win over Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv at Nokia Arena on Thursday night. The win broke a streak of losses to the Israeli champs, the last two of which took place at the last two Final Fours. It also ended Maccabi's 15-game home-court winning streak in Euroleague games, which dated back to January 2006. Igor Rakocevic scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the first quarter as Tau surged ahead. Strong minutes from Nikola Vujcic and Lior Eliyahu led Maccabi back in the second half, but Serkan Erdogan caught fire down the stretch and Rakocevic killed the game with a clutch triple to give Tau a tough road win. The visitors were playing without head coach Velimir Perasovic, who was hospitalized this week with chest pains. Assistant coach Natxo Lezcano picked up the win in his first game on the sidelines. Edogan finished with 14 and Tiago Splitter came off the bench for 12. Tau's star power forward Luis Scola suffered from foul trouble and was held to 8 points in 21 minutes. Eliyahu led Maccabi with 17, Tal Burstein added 13 and Vujcic flirted with a triple double, posting 12 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists.
Maccabi came out with a new-look lineup, with Noel Felix and Goran Jeretin starting for the first time all season. The hosts won the opening tip and scored first through a Vujcic hook. Rakocevic put Tau on the board and Kaya Peker soon followed to give the visitors the lead. Vujic fed Felix inside to tie it, but the game was more about defense at this point. Tau was able to shut Maccabi down, with Peker drawing an offensive foul from Jeretin, while Rakocvic's three and Pablo Prigioni's steal and layup quited the crowd and caused Maccabi coach Neven Spahija to take his first timeout with the hosts trailing 4-13. Eliyahu came off the bench and scored on the next two possessions, thanks to dishes from Vujcic and Will Bynum, respectively. Vujcic drilled a triple and Eliyahu drew an offensive foul from Frederick House to get back in the game. Rakocevic and Jeretin traded triples, but Scola's jumper made it 16-23. Vujcic scored and drew a foul from Scola for a three-point play, and after Rakocevic hit a mid-range jumper, Derrick Sharp buried a triple to close the gap to 3, however Rakocevic had the last word, ending the period with a triple over Sharp to make it 24-30.
Erdogan started the second for Tau with a triple and then he drove on Vujcic to make it 26-35. Splitter's first hoop then gave the visitors their first double-digit advantage. Maccabi was effective at drawing fouls, but not so much at making the free throws, however the Tau attack slowed with Rakocevic resting. Each team scored only 8 points in the first 8-and-a-half minutes of the period, until Jamie Arnold slammed home Sharp's miss to make it 34-38. Arnold then corrected Vujcic's missed jumper and made the free throw to bring Maccabi within 1, and that's how it remained after 20 minutes, with Tau leading 37-38.
Sharp started the second half with a three to give Maccabi its first lead since the first minute. Sharp then drew an offensive foul from Peker and Vujcic threw a no-look pass to Eliyahu to bring the crowd to its feet. House answered with a three, but after Rakocevic stumbled and lost the ball and Eliyahu dunked at the other end, Maccabi was in control. House went baseline, but Maccabi went to Eliyahu again, who scored and drew Scola's third foul, forcing the Tau star to the bench with the hosts on top 48-43. Burstein increased the Maccabi lead to 7 with a pair of free throws midway through the period. Erdogan's triple and then a Peker free throw carried Tau back to within 1 before Arnold, fresh from replacing Eliyahu, sank a one-hander and Jeretin penetrated for 2 more. Burstein's high-flying block of House's break-away layup prevented Tau from tying the score, but instead Erdogan rifled one from long-range to return the lead to the visitors and Splitter slammed one on the offensive glass to put Tau ahead 54-57 with 10 minutes to play.
Splitter put a hook over Vujcic to start the fourth, but Burstein quickly answered for Maccabi. Ender Arslan's first points for Tau increased the lead to 6, but on the next play Scola was whistled for his fourth foul and returned to the bench. However even without its star, Tau had a red-hot Erdogan, whose fourth three of the night made it 56-65. After a Tel Aviv timeout, Burstein and Simas Jasaitas brought Maccabi back to minus-5. Splitter scored inside,but the Burstein popped a three and Vujcic drew Splitter's fourth foul and made a free throw to cap an 8-2 spurt as the scoreboard showed 64-67 midway through the fourth quarter. Splitter scored inside and after some Maccabi mis-haps, Peker added one from the line to put Tau up 6 with 4 minutes remaining. Vujcic spotted Sharp for a clutch triple, but Prigioni answered with the same. After Eliyahu made one-of-two from the line, Rakocevic stepped up with his first points since the first quarter to bury Maccabi's last hopes. The hosts last-ditch efforts in the final minute were futile as Tau celebrated a big win to start the Top 16.
Thursday, February 15, 2007