The have been waiting in Tel Aviv for the night when Maccabi would put it all together against a major opponent in a key game. That's just what happened on Thursday, as Maccabi scored without mercy from the start and blew out visiting Tau Ceramica 100-77 to claim co-leadership of Group F. An 11-0 run led by Gur Shelef early in the third quarter broke open a game Maccabi had controlled from the start anyway. Now, Maccabi is 2-0, together with Benetton Treviso, while Tau is winless at the bottom of the group with Virtus Bologna. Shelef led the offensive barrage for Maccabi with 21 points. Among five other double-figure scorers, Nikola Vujcic added 20, Tal Burstein 17, Beno Udrih 12, Yoav Saffar 11 and Marcus Goree 10. Tau, struggling to a 35-26 disadvantage under the boards, had 17 points from Andres Nocioni, all in the first half. Leandro Palladino added 15, Laurent Foirest and Luis Scola 11 each for the Spanish champs.
Both teams started the game looking inside, Tau to its new starting frontcourt of Ruben Wolkowyski and Thierry Gadou. But it was Maccabi who scored down low on its first four possessions, with Goree detonating a dunk that made it 8-5. As Maccabi went into its first zone defense of several, Tau's Palladino buried the game's first three-pointer, then hit a second for an 8-8 tie. But Shelef copied him from the arc, the first 3 of his 7 consecutive points for Maccabi. When Udrih added two from the line and Burstein his own triple, Maccabi had raced ahead 20-12 in just 7 minutes. Nocioni, having come off the bench to make his first 3 shots, was the only player scoring for Tau until Scola also entered and dropped through his first. When Elmer Bennett also made a bucket, Tau had a 0-6 run and was back within 20-18. Goree finished the quarter as he had started it, with a dunk for 22-18, but Palladino did so his way, too, with a triple, so Maccabi's lead was down to the minimum, 22-21, after 10 minutes.
With its defense now stopping most drives, Tau blanked Maccabi to start the second quarter and took a brief lead, 25-27, after 4 free throws by Nocioni. Maccabi had its own bench help, however, in this case Saffar, who drained a triple and drove for a layup as the hosts bit back with a 9-0 run to a 34-27 advantage. But Nocioni was unstoppable. He dropped a triple to start a mini-run by Tau that ended with another shot from downtown, by Bennett, and Maccabi's lead down to 42-39. Teenage sub Yotam Halperin climbed off the bench now to finish the half in style for Maccabi. After hitting 1 of 2 free throws, he claimed an offensive rebound with 8 seconds left then turned and took it to the Tau defense himself, hitting a soft jumper from the top of the lane to send Maccabi to the lockers with a 46-40 lead. Burstein was leading the hosts with 13 points at the half, while Nocioni was keeping Tau in the game with 17.
Tau's big man shortage got worse despite Scola starting the second half with a basket in the lane. He landed wrong and limped off with a left ankle injury. Immediately at the other end, Maccabi went inside, getting a double dunk in one possession: Vujcic's drop-step slam and a foul by Wolkowyski, and Goree's flying jam of the foul shot rebound. Only a pair of three-pointers by Laurent Foirest and Palladino kept Tau alive, but after Burstein and Udrih drove for layups, the Maccabi lead started rising. Shelef took over next with another 7-0 run of his own, two drives sandwiched around 3 free throws. Udrih scored on another fastbreak and then Shelef posted up for a final basket to end the 11-0 run with a 67-50 lead on the board. Palladino stopped the slide with a three-pointer, but then lost the ball on a 3-on-1 fastbreak. At the other end, Derrick Sharp tossed and alley-oop pass that Goree dunked. For good measure, Saffar nailed a triple that made it 73-57 at the end of 30 minutes.
Foirest launched in a three to start the final quarter, giving Tau a moment of hope, if not for a full comeback, at least for keeping the margin close in case of future tiebreakers. But Maccabi was having none of it. The Yellows and their 10,000 delighted fans just kept pouring on the points with another series of fastbreaks. Vujcic got it started this time with a post-up basket and then a dunk off a stolen rebound that sent the lead over 20 points for the first time. Only the clock could save Tau now, but with 100-77 on the scoreboard when the buzzer sounded, the Spanish champions were 0-2 with a whole lot of points to make up in the remaining four Top 16 games.
Thursday, March 6, 2003