Two-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv began the 2006 portion of its title defense with a high-flying 101-95 home win over never-say-die Olympiacos in Group B on Thursday. A points race that lasted into the final minute saw five Maccabi players score 12 or more to lift their team's recordto 6-3, good for at least sole possession of third place in the group. Olympiacos fell to 4-5 and is still in fifth place. Will Solomon was the big gun for Maccabi with 29 points and 7 assists. The big surprise was backup shooter Sharon Shason, who shot 6-for-6 from the floor for 16 points. Tal Burstein added 15, Maceo Baston 13 and Anthony Parker 12 for the winners. Quincy Lewis led Olympiacos with 24 points against his former team, while Andrija Zizic of Olympiacos set a Euroleague record by making 17 of 17 free throws among his 23 points. Tyus Edney and Renaldas Seibutis chipped in 11 each for the guests.
To get going against his old team, Quincy Lewis hit a jumper to put Olympiacos on the board first. Maccabi's first points came from a Maceo Baston tip-in. On the next play, a well-executed pick-and-roll with Parker left Vujcic open for a slam to make it 4-2. Olympiacos struck right back, but Nikols Barlos was whistled for his second foul, prompting coach Jonas Kazlauskas to bring in Renaldas Seibutis earlier than expected. Crisp passing saw Maccabi continue to put points on the board, with Tal Burstein benefiting on several occasions, but the never-ending work of Zizic in the paint kept the visitors neck-and-neck. After a Baston free throw made it 16-12, two Zizic free throws and a Lewis score tied it again. Now, Maccabi reeled off seven straight points, capped by a Burstein fastbreak layup-plus-free throw. Lewis stopped the run with a free throw, but then picked up his second foul. A Seibutas layup trimmed the gap to 25-21, but he was soon in foul trouble with three. A late Baston bucket put Maccabi up 6 points again, but yet another Olympiacos contributor, Panayiotis Vasilopoulis, drilled a three to end the quarter 29-26.
Olympiacos big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis planted himself in the paint for 2 points to start the second quarter. Vasilopoulis limped off injred after a Maccabi miss, and then Schortsanitis tied it 30-30 with a powerful slam. Maccabi went back on top as Solomon beat the 24-second clock with a triple, but visitors stayed close on a Lewis layup. Schortsanitis kept dominating when he got the ball inside, but he also struggled with fouls, picking up three quickly and going to the bench. Zizic picked up where Schortsanitis left off, however, drawing a fouls on Burstein and Vujcic and sinking all 4 free throws to make it 39-38. A Parker steal and slam followed by a Solomon bucket put Maccabi up 44-38, but after a timeout, Zizic drew reserve center Yaniv Green's fourth and kept hitting his free throws. And after an off-balance jumper by Baston, Zizic was at it again, getting a goaltending call and a foul from Parker for a three-point play to cut Maccabi's advantage to 51-45 at halftime.
On his team's first possession after the break, Zizic scored inside to give himself a season-high 19 points already. Then Tyus Edney took over scoring duties to keep Olympiacos close. Sharon Shason's second three-pointer extended Maccabi's lead to 64-56, but on the other end, a Zizic kept an offensive rebound alive and Parker heard his fourth foul whistled. Solomon made the crowd forget about that quickly with a fastbreak slam for the first 10-point lead, 66-56. Lewis, Seibutas, Hatzis and Zizic responded with a 1-8 Olympiacos run that made it a whole new game at 67-64. Schortsanitis subbed Zizic, but within seconds picked up his fourth foul and Zizic was back on the court. Solomon set Vujcic up for a three-pointer and then drove to stretch the lead back to 8. He then finished his great quarter with a triple that provided Maccabi's biggest lead yet, 79-68 after 30 minutes.
Seibutas started the fourth quarter with a three-point play, but Kirk Penney answered with a triple for Maccabi. An 0-7 Olympiacos run on Edney's jumper and triple brought the Reds back at 82-78. Maccabi called timeout and brought Parker back, after which Lewis got his fourth foul trying to stop Baston. Schortsanitis matched Baston's free throws with a slam, but three-pointers from Solomon and Shason soon had Maccabi back in control. A baseline move by Shason made it 92-82 as Olympiacos called timeout with 5 minutes to go. Lewis scored 5 quick points to surpass his previous season-high – 21 vs Maccabi – and cut the gap to 5, but Derrick Sharp's triple from the corner with 3:15 remaining made it 97-88. Even that didn't put the visitors away, however. Free throws by Zizic combined with some easy misses kept things too close for Maccabi's comfort. Parker fouled out as Barlos scored and hit the free throw for 99-93 with 1:30 left. But Solomon came right back and drove for a basket to make sure nothing threatened Maccabi's eventual 101-95 home win.
Thursday, January 5, 2006