In its first serious Group B challenge before 10,000 fans with Final Four dreams, Maccabi faced down its traditional rival Panathinaikos with a complete 97-75 victory on Thursday in Tel Aviv. Maccabi, now 3-0, holds onto a share of first place in the group with CSKA Moscow. Panathinaikos fell to a fourth-place tie at 1-2. A close game at the half went all Maccabi's way after that thanks to scoring diversity up and down the lineup. Maceo Baston, with 21 points and 10 rebounds, led six Maccabi scorers with 12 or more points. Anthony Parker had 15 and was key to boosting Maccabi after halftime. Nikola Vujicic added 14, Tal Burstein and Sarunas Jasikevicius 13 each, and Derrick Sharp 12 for the winners. Jasikevicius also had 9 of Maccabi's 31 assists, almost as many as the 12 total for Panathinaikos. Jaka Lakovic led the visitors with 21 points and Mike Batiste added 17, but no other Greens reached double figures.
Nikos Hatzivrettas opened the scoring for Panathinaikos with a thunderous dunk down the middle, but it was not a sign of things to come. Panathinaikos struggled to hit open outside shots after that. Maccabi's offense ran through Anthony Parker, who fed Nikola Vujcic for a three-pointer and then Maceo Baston twice underneath as Tel Aviv took an 11-4 lead. Arriel McDonald, who responded to a warm pre-game welcome from the Maccabi fans by signalling that his heart is with them, hit an early jumper, but soon missed a pair of threes. On the other end, Tal Burstein assisted Baston with a perfect ally-oop pass, which thrilled the sold-ut Nokia Arena and gave Maccabi an eight-point advantage. Fragiskos Alvertis gave the Greens hope with a turnaround jumper, but Maccabi answered with a 7-0 run, during which Baston scored 2 more from the line and Parker set up Vujcic for his second triple to make it 21-8. The only negative for the hosts came on the next trip down court, when Baston picked up 2 quick fouls, He was replaced by Deon Thomas. The Greens converted 4 foul shots and Jaka Lakovic capped the period with a steal and layup to make it 23-16. Baston already had 10 points for Maccabi.
Maccabi coach Pini Gershon decided to bring back Baston to jumpstart his stalling offense, but it was the introduction of Lakovic and George Kalaitzis by Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic that changed the game. Those two combined for 4 outside shots, including a pair of triples by Lakovic. Then a neat penetration by Lakovic freed Kostas Tsartsaris for a dunk and an extra free throw to cut Maccabi's lead to 30-34. David Bluthenthal responded with a three-point play for the hosts, but 2 free throws by Kalaitzis and another Lakovic three-pointer made it just 35-38 with 4 minutes left in the half. The torrid scoring ended there. Two minutes went by before the next basket was scored, but Panathinaikos center Mike Batiste made three from the charity stripe to keep the Greens close, then Alvertis fired in a three-pointer to get them within one 42-43. Only a pair of Burstein free throws let Maccabi breathe a little with a 45-42 halftime lead.
The second half picked up where the first left off, with most players struggling to score. Parker and Lakovic made up for them, however. Parker dunked, nailed a three from the corner, and hit a jumper, while Lakovic answered with 5 points on two slashing moves to the basket. Finally, Sarunas Jasikevicius stepped up with a three-pointer, bringing Maccabi's lead to 57-47 and forcing a Panathinaikos timeout. Afterward, Darryl Middleton scored on a set play, and Batiste hit a jumper and a layup to keep the Greens close. But when Lakovic cooled down, so did the entire Panathinaikos attack, and even McDonald's return couldn't help. Maccabi used the visitors' drought to reel off 9 unanswered points, taking the score to 68-54. Jasikevicius and Baston traded baskets and assists with each other during the run, with the Lithuanian hitting a big three to the crowd's delight. Hatzivrettas scored on three-point-play before Thomas beat the buzzer to end the quarter with Maccabi up 70-57.
McDonald tried to help Panathinaikos get back in the game despite earning his fourth foul early in the last period. He answered that with a coast-to-coast lay-up, but it was proving to be too little, too late. Derrick Sharp's second three-pointer of the quarter increased Maccabi's lead to 82-61, and the outcome was clear enough that Gershon let young point guard Yotam Halperin run the show for the final minutes. Batiste did what he could to keep the score respectable, adding 2 threes and a free throw. Baston added 2 dunks in the final minute as Maccabi finished Panathinaikos off 97-75.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Eran Sela, Tel Aviv