Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv turned in an inspired performance at Nokia Arena on Thursday night to beat CSKA Moscow 68-56 and force a third-and-deciding game in their Quarterfinal Playoffs series for a spot in the Final Four. Maccabi turned the tables on CSKA, playing arguably of its best defensive game of the season and setting a defensive record 48 hours after CSKA held the Israeli champs to 58 points in Game 1. CSKA's 56 points scored gave Maccabi the record for fewest points allowed in a Euroleague quarterfinal game. The result also ended the visitors' Euroleague record-tying 18 game winning streak. The two teams, which clashed for the Euroleague title last season in Prague, will play the series finale next Thursday in the Russian capital. After an evenly played first period, Lior Eliyahu came up with some big plays during a 13-0 second-period run that helped Maccabi take a 35-25 halftime lead. Afterwards, Eliyahu had three dunks and a big block on Matjaz Smodis to fire a run of 14 unanswered points that put the hosts up 49-27. The defending champs could only mount a late comeback to get within 9, but Maccabi held on. Nikola Vujcic led Maccabi with 15 points and 9 rebounds, Will Bynum added 14 points and 5 assists and Eliyahu finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Oscar Torres led CSKA with 12 points and Trajan Langdon had 11 before fouling out.
Torres got CSKA on the board first with a short jumper and then shut down Maccabi on the other end with stifling defense that killed the pace Maccabi hoped for. The hosts first points came when Vujcic grabbed a Bynum miss and scored over Smodis. After Smodis missed a long jumper, Bynum set Jamie Arnold up inside for a chippie to keep the crowd involved. Langdon penetrated for CSKA, which continued to force Maccabi into long halfcourt sets and difficult shots. Vujcic fed Derrick Sharp for a mid-range jumper to make it 6-4 midway through the period. A big block by Arnold on the 2.17-meter Aleksey Savrasenko ignited the arena, but a J.R. Holden steal and Theo Papaloukas slam in transition negated the effect. But a minute later, Vujcic beat the 24-second clock from downtown and Tal Burstein made it 11-6 with a fast-break layup and it was CSKA coach Ettore Messina calling for a timeout. Papaloukas came back with a foul-line jumper and Holden hit one over Eliyahu to bring CSKA back. Torres tied it from the line and Maccabi lost the ball on its final possession to end the first period at 11-11.
Bynum picked Maccabi up with a pull-up three to begin the second quarter and then he set up Simas Jasaitas for a triple that brought the crowd to its feet. Torres answered back with a three-point play in transition, but Bynum drove on Tomas Van den Spiegel to keep the hosts momentum. Torres remained CSKA's top weapon with a three, but Eliyahu scored on the offensive glass and Vujcic fed Jasaitas on a backdoor cut to make it 23-17. Vujcic increased the lead with a free throw and then after Holden missed a three – making CSKA 1-for-10 from beyond the arc at that point – Burstein drilled a triple to give Maccabi a double-digit advantage. On the ensuing possession, Burstein dumped off to Eliyahu for a two-handed slam-plus-foul and later Arnold, fresh in for Eliyahu, hit two from the line to cap a 13-0 run that put the hosts up 32-17. David Andersen scored CSKA's first points in nearly 5 minutes with a free throw and after Vujcic answered, Anton Ponkrashov went inside to restore some rhythm to the Russian champs' attack. Torres fired away from beyond the arc to cut the gap to 10 and thats how it remained at the break with Maccabi ahead 35-25.
CSKA looked more focused as the second half got underway. Langdon opened the scoring with a jumper, but Sharp bettered him with a triple from the corner. Eliyahu stepped up, first blocking Smodis on defense and then scoring on the offensive glass to put Maccabi up 13. The rookie continued to dominate, taking a defensive rebound away from Savrasenko and then taking a dish from Vujcic for a furious slam after which the arena erupted. Burstein came up big on both ends and then Eliyahi threw down another monster dunk, after which CSKA took a timeout looking to for an answer to Maccabi's run of 11 straight points. It didn't come at first, as Vujcic made it 49-27 with his second three. Landon finally hit from downtown to stop the bleeding, but the momentum remained with the hosts. Andersen drilled a triple to bring his side within 16, but Bynum stepped up with a circus shot and later a three to make it 55-34. Papaloukas added a free throw to bring the deficit to 20 with 10 minutes to go.
Bynum's layup kept the hosts in charge as the fourth quarter began. CSKA looked to pick up its offensive pace to mount a comeback, back instead its shot selection looked sloppy. After Holden managed to make it an 18-point game with a jumper, Maccabi coach Neven Spahija took a timeout to calm his excited troops. Savrasenko inside and Holden outside managed to chip away at the lead, cutting to 59-44 with 5 minutes left. However a Bynum pull-up helped the hosts keep their composure. Langdon made it 63-50 with 2-and-a-half minutes left, but Eliyahu's answered with an offensive rebound and basket. Still Savrasenko's bucket and then Ponkrashov's free throws got the visitors within 9, but it was too little, too late. Maccabi continued to drain the clock on its final possessions to hold on for a big win.
Thursday, April 5, 2007