A showdown between the last two Euroleague champions turned quickly into a blowout on Wednesday as Maccabi Elite blasted Winterthur FC Barcelona 84-59 in a Group B game at home in Tel Aviv. By bouncing back strong from its first defeat the previous week, Maccabi reached the halfway point of the Euroleague Regular Season alone at the top of Group B with a 6-1 record. Barcelona fell to 4-3 and will have to share second place with at least one other team. Both teams were without their starting centers - Nikola Vujcic for Maccabi, Roberto Dueñas for Barcelona - and Maceo Baston more than filled the void inside for the winners. Baston was unstoppable while posting 20 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 blocks for Maccabi. He wasfollowed by Anthony Parker with 16 points, while Tal Burstein, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Deon Thomas added 10 each. Gregor Fucka provided all the resistance for Barcelona, scoring 15 points and pulling 10 rebounds. The only other double-figure scorer for the visitors was Vlado Ilievski with 14 points.
Maccabi came out attacking, as just seconds after the opening tip Sarunas Jasikevicius threw an alley-oop attempt to Maceo Baston. Even though the ball bounced out, it was clear that Maccabi was to be the aggressor from the start. Barcelona looked to answer just as quickly, but Dejan Bodiroga's first shot was blocked, and then Juan Carlos Navarro threw an airball from three-point distance. Without the injured big man Roberto Dueñas, the visitors were forced out of the paint and shot from outside, but failed to make even one jump shot in the first quarter. On the other side, Thomas and Baston took advantage of the inexperienced Marc Gasol inside and scored almost at will. After Ilievski brought Barcelona within 5-7, the visitors didn't score for another 5 minutes, 30 seconds until he made 2 free throws. By that time, Maccabi had reeled off 19 unanswered points to take a 26-7 lead at the end of the period.
Maccabi's offense didn't keep up the pace in the second quarter. The hosts had only a pair of dunks by Baston, both assisted by substitute Yaniv Green, to show for the first 4 minutes, but its defense continued to hold Barcelona in check. Fucka finally woke up the guests with a pair of baskets in the paint only to see Maccabi begin scoring again also to maintain a 20-point advantage. Green, who had either scored or assisted on all Maccabi’s points in the quarter, now dunked to for a 38-16 Maccabi edge. Fucka, young Ramon Espuna and Navarro scored back-to-back-to-back buckets on the offensive glass as Barcelona started showing signs of a comeback, to which Roger Grimau added a three-pointer to make it 40-25. Fucka's efficient defense was a key part of that comeback, but the Barcelona big man now picked up his third foul on an offensive charge and watched the final minute from the bench as Baston and Thomas pushed Maccabi's halftime lead to 44-26.
Burstein and Parker set each other up for a pair of three-pointers to start the second half and take any slight momentum away from Barcelona for good. The visitors started the third quarter with three consecutive misses before Ilievski made a layup and Rodrigo De la Fuente a three-pointer, just the second of the game for Barcelona. Maccabi had Baston, however, and he scored 8 points himself through the middle of the quarter to put the hosts ahead by 24 again, 59-35. Fucka, Barcelona's most active player on both sides of the floor, continued to provide his team with points while stopping his opponent, but without too much help Barcelona had little chance of getting back. Navarro made his first outside shot of the game in the final minute of the quarter to close the gap to 61-42 at the end of the 30 minutes.
When Jasikevicius nailed a triple early in the fourth quarter, the Maccabi lead reached 69-44. De la Fuente responded with a three-pointer of his own, but as the shot fell through the net, Fucka was called for a technical foul and the Barcelona's best player on the night soon found himself on the bench. No comebacks were possible now. Baston put Maccabi back up by 25 before exiting to a standing ovation with 4 minutes left. Desperate to trim the large deficit to perhaps help in a possible tiebreaker later on, Barcelona began throwing up quicker, less organized shots, which resulted in Maccabi fastbreaks. one of which Jasikevicius finished with a triple to push the lead over his old team to 81-54. The showdown between champions would have to wait for another night.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Eran Sela, Tel Aviv