Defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv posted just the second undefeated Top 16 record in Euroleague history by downing Montepaschi 68-81 on the road in Siena on Thursday. Maccabi finished 6-0 in Group D, while a team that was with it in the Final Four last spring, Montepaschi, was eliminated due to its 2-4 record. Maccabi had already clinched first place, while Montepaschi could have advanced win or lose if Ulker had not rallied to defeat Cibona in Thursday's other Group D game. Sarunas Jasikevicius led Maccabi with 15 points while making 4 of 4 three-pointers. Anthony Parker added 12 points, Nikola Vujcic 11 and Tal Burstein 10 for Maccabi. Montepaschi, which played without injured leader David Vanterpool, got 14 points from Roberto Chiacig, 13 from Giacomo Galanda and 10 from Vrbica Stefanov.
Montepaschi fed Chiacig early for 3 points, and when Stefanov got open for a jumper the hosts were ahead 5-2. Maceo Baston had Maccabi's only points on a hook shot, but he soon committed 2 fouls and went to the bench. Montepaschi added new jumpers by Stefanov and Galanda to the lead before Burstein raised another 2 points for Maccabi, but Chiacig soon upped the lead to 11-4 midway through the quarter. Silent until then, Parker now hit free throws and Jasikevicius the game's first strike from the arc, getting Maccabi within 11-9. Parker soon tied with an elegant rainbow shot and Burstein gave Maccabi its first lead, 13-14, at the foul line, but neither team could move ahead much as free throws ended the quarter with Montepaschi clinging to a 19-18 margin.
The second quarter opened lazily, with two notable exceptions, a drive to the basket from the arc by Montepaschi center Efthimios Rentzias and Parker's blast through the lane for a layup. He was fouled and hit the free throw, so Maccabi led 23-25. Michalis Kakiouzis answered with a corner triple, but while the Siena fans were still screaming, Jasikevicius rocketed in his own shot from downtown. Mindaugas Zukauskas soon answered with his own triple, while a pair of blocks by big Ben Eze preserved Montepaschi's lead, but only until Maccabi brought out its small lineup. Gur Sheffer and Nestoras Kommatos took back the lead, then Jasikevicius and Burstein finished a 2-12 quarter-closing run with back-to-back triples that had the guests breathing easy with a 33-40 lead at the half.
Soon after the break, Maccabi took a double-digit lead, 34-44, on a dunk by Parker and a finger roll by Nikola Vujcic. Shooting percentages collapsed then, but halfway through the third quarter, Maccabi was still ahead 39-49. Galanda suddenly woke up with 5 straight points for Montepaschi, but the hosts came no closer because Baston and Vujcic were dominating inside. Parker now returned to the court and sank a triple to make it 45-56. Just when it seemed that Maccabi was applying all its great physical abilities to its defense, Jasikevicius invented a no-look pass that Baston dunked despie a foul in the midst of a 0-7 run to close the third quarter with the guests in control at 47-63.
Jasikevicius and Shelef opened the final quarter by upping the Maccabi advantage to 20 points, 47-67, after which very little happened to make the Siena fans think their team was coming back. Montepaschi didn't need to win to keep its playoff hopes alive, but by then, word was circulating about Ulker's come-from-behind victory. Ulker was going to the playoffs and Montepaschi was eliminated already. With 53-71 showing and 5 minutes to play, both defenses slackened and the scoreboard became a flipper. The game proceeded to the buzzer with one Final Four team from a year ago now out of the competition but the defending champs looking stronger than ever with the only undefeated record in the Top 16.
Thursday, March 31, 2005