Two Arriel McDonald free throws with 1.5 seconds lifted Maccabi to a 69-68 victory over visiting CSKA Moscow in Tel Aviv on Thursday in each team's opener in Group H of the Top 16. The foul that put McDonald on the line was the second in the final 5.3 seconds. Gordan Giricek of CSKA made just 1 of his 2 free shots, but it was enough to put CSKA, the game-long leader, up by a single point. But as McDonald drove at the other end, Giricek was called for bumping him, and the Maccabi guard made good on both of his freebies. CSKA tried to inbound the length of the court for a final shot, but Nate Huffman caught it to secure the victory. Maccabi was led in scoring by young Tal Burstein with 15 points. Anthony Parker added 14 and McDonald 12 for the winners. Huffman had a double dozen, 12 points and 12 rebounds. Giricek and Mirsad Turkcan poured in 20 each for CSKA, and Turkcan added his usual 15 rebounds. Curtis McCants also had 17 points for CSKA. Maccabi joins Tau Ceramica at 1-0 at the top of Group H, while CSKA and Ulker are 0-1.
The game started as a defensive battle with little scoring. CSKA jumped out to an early lead at 2-5 with 4 minutes already gone by in the quarter, but a nice move inside by Tal Burstein and a three by Parker brought Maccabi ahead at 9-7. The two defenses then buckled down as the teams struggled to exchange baskets over the next several minutes. The home team went up 15-12 with 3 minutes to go in the quarter and appeared to be in control of the game. CSKA thought otherwise, and slowly started to make an end-of-quarter run. McCants started it off with a bucket, followed by Turkcan and Giricek. Three more points in the final minute capped off a 3-9 CSKA run which gave them an 18-21 lead after the first 10 minutes.
The second quarter was similar to the first. Neither team could execute on offense as both defenses were playing well. Finally, nearly 2 minutes into the quarter, Giricek broke onto the scoreboard as CSKA regained momentum. Over the next two minutes they outscored the Yellows 2-9 and for the first time extended their lead to double-digits, 20-30 at the 16 minute mark. New center Ruben Wolkowyski went 4 for 4 from the foulline during that run. It was the young Burstein who single-handedly brought Maccabi back by scoring 5 unanswered points before Turkcan stopped the slide for CSKA. The trio of McCants, Turkcan and Giricek tried to keep Maccabi at bay by extending the lead to 30-38 with just over a minute to go in the quarter. But Maccabi, backed by their screaming fans, would not be deterred. The yellows counter-punched with their own scoring-trio, first Huffman, then MacDonald, and then Burstein, whose wild buzzer-beater right before the half cut CSKA's lead all the way down to just two, 36-38, as the teams headed into the locker room.
The teams came out of the locker room well rested, but still lacking any sort of rhythm on offense. They exchanged a pair of baskets in the first two minutes before MacDonald finally brought the Yellows even with the Russians, 40-40, for the first time since before the end of the first quarter when it was tied at 18. Besok added a tip in off a nice offensive rebound which was followed by a spectacular over-under move by Parker (which is sure to make the highlight reel) which gave the home team a 44-42 lead four minutes into the new half. The rest of the period turned into a 3 on 3 between Giricek, McCants, and Turkcan against MacDonald, Parker, and Burstein. McCants put his team up by two at the 26 minute mark before Parker put his team up swishing a three. Turkcan then added a bucket for 49-50 before Burstein added one of his own for 51-50. In the end it was CSKA coming out on top, and holding onto a slim 52-54 lead as the teams headed into the decisive final period. McCants led all scorers with 17 points, Giricek had 16 and Turkcan had 14 for CSKA while Burstein led the Yellows with 15.
The fourth period was all about intensity and nerves. The two teams played such swarming defenses that the high powered offense of Maccabi, and the Euroleague high scoring tandem of Turkcan and GIricek could barely get anything going. What they couldn't do on offense though they made up for it on defense. In a consecutive series of plays three minutes into the period, Turkcan swatted away an attempt by Huffman at one end, followed by a huge block by MacDonald on Turkcan at the other, who then found his revenge in another enormous block as Huffman went up for the shot. At the 34 minute mark, the score was 52-55,the only difference being a Turckan free throw. The teams finally turned it on in the closing minutes. Halfway through the period, CSKA pulled out to a 4-point advantage, 57-61, and it looked as though they would run away with it but MacDonald would not give up. Leading his team back, Huffman, and Parker each contributed in a 7-2 run that tied the game at 63-63 with just over two minutes to play.
As the game was on the line, both teams turned to their key players. Turkcan shorted a three from the right corner before Huffman shorted an easy 7-footer at the other end off which CSKA grabbed the rebound and marched calmly down the court for last possession with 20 seconds left. Giricek, dribbled at the top of the arc waiting for the clock to run down. The entire Maccabi defense collapsed on him as drove into the lane and as he went up the referees called Henefield for his fourth foul putting Giricek on the line for two free throws with 5.3 seconds left. He missed the first but nailed the second to give CSKA a 67-68 lead, and possible victory. Maccabi hurried the inbounds pass and gave it off to MacDonald who streaked down the right side. As he appraoched the arc, he picked up his dribble. MacDonald passed by Giricek coming off a screen who barely grazed him with his hips, and he let a shot go up which rimmed out, but Maccabi was saved by the refs who blew Giricek for his fourth which sent MacDonald to the line with 1.5 seconds to go. MacDonald cooly sank both attempts, his first two of the night. And as CSKA sent a desperation lob down court to no one, the 10,000 strong in Yad Eliyahu arena erupted as the Maccabi bench poured on to the court in celebration of the 69-68 victory.
Thursday, February 28, 2002