If the third game of what it expects to be a long season can be considered a test, Maccabi Tel Aviv passed with flying colors Thursday as it handed Panathiniakos its first defeat, 64-77, on the road at Athens in Group C. A defensive struggle all the way, Maccabi took the lead in the second quarter and never gave it back. When the Greens got close in the fourth, Maccabi blew them away with a 0-10 run to clinch the victory. Nikola Vujcic was again the inside force for the winners, with 19 points and 7 rebounds. Quincy Lewis added 14 points. Beno Udrih, the catalyst in the middle quarters, finished with 11 points, as did Marcus Goree. The ex-leader of Maccabi, point guard Arriel McDonald, started strong and led Panathinaikos with 17 points, and was joined in double figures by Darrl Middleton with 13 and Antonis Fotzis with 11. Both teams are now 2-1 in Group B, looking up at undefeated leader Tau Ceramica.
McDonald went right at his former teammates, scoring on two- and three-pointers in the first 5 minutes as Panathinaikos raced ahead 9-2. Halway through the quarter, one last spring's Final Four heroes, Ibrahim Kutluay, made his first appearance of this season after having been injured. Vujcic and Besok combined for 5 points to draw Maccabi closer at 9-7. A second personal foul by Antonis Fotsis and a 2-3 zone defense by Maccabi changed the rhythm of the game. Beno Udrih completed a 1-7 run with a basket that made it 10-9. He was playing with Derrick Sharp while McDonald was still the only point guard out there for Panathinaikos. As in its previous Euroleague home game against Buducnost, the Greens struggled to get good ball movement and shots against the Maccabi zone. As such, the visitors controlled the tempo enough to reach the end of the first quarter still down a point, 15-14, but with momentum on their side.
To start the second quarter, Udrich gave Maccabi its very first lead, 15-16, which was like the flip of a switch on which team controlled of the game. The Greens missed fastbreaks and failed to solve the zone. Maccabi fought under the boards, played with energy, patience and good ball movement. After 13 minutes, a three by Udrih put Maccabi ahead 17-22, the prelude to clear dominance of the quarter. He, Marcus Goree, Quincy Lewis and Gur Shelef took turns against the Panathinaikos defense until the Maccabi lead soared to 23-37, 2 minutes before halftime. Jaka Lakovic and Giorgos Kalaitzis found a way to score 2 consecutive three-pointers for the Greens, but Maccabi didn't lose its concentration and held onto a double-digit lead, 31-41, at the break, with Udrih's 9 points leading all scorers.
Nothing changed in the third period. Maccabi continued its solid game, getting several fastbreak opportunities as both teams played with three perimeter players. For Panathinaikos, nothing changed the momentum, and the pressure to get back in the game produced bad shots and turnovers, even some wasted fastbreaks. Maccabi had no trouble keeping the lead between 10 and 14 points, the latter at 35-49. Panathinaikos finally managed to cut the margin in the final minutes to 52-43, the first time during this period that the deficit fell below double digits.
Panathinaikos returned for the fourth quarter to play its last card, but Maccabi stayed calm and defended its lead against the pressing of the Greens. Panathinaikos found some good shots and Giorgos Kalaitzis sank a three-pointer to cut the margin to 50-56, 7 minutes and 34 seconds before the finish. Maccabi switched again to its zone defense, but McDonald hit another three-pointer, good for 53-58. Then Darryl Middleton hit a jumper to make it 55-58, but the Yellows answered immediately and with finality. Maccabi's 10-0 run over the next 3 minutes pushed the lead to 55-68. Despite the fact that Maccabi players missed consecutive free throws and Panathinaikos played with four perimeter players looking for three-pointers, Maccabi already had the points it needed for a great victory richly deserved by the visitors.
Thursday, October 24, 2002