The crisis is under control. Maccabi Tel Aviv rose to the challenge of its toughest winless streak in memory by taking the first victory by any Euroleague visitor to Siena all season, 63-73 over Montepaschi in Group B on Thursday. The result left both teams tied at 4-5 for the all-important fifth place in the group. Maccabi followed Nikola Vujcic to the triumph. His blocked shot and basket on the ensuing possession produced a four-point turnaround that gave Maccabi an airtight 63-69 lead with 1 minute left to play. The fact that Montepaschi did not score again was symptomatic of Maccabi's great defense throughout the game. The cold three-point shooting of the Montepaschi - 17.8% from behind the arc for a team that led the Euroleague with 49.7% coming into the game - certainly influenced the outcome. Vujcic led Maccabi with 19 points and 9 rebounds, while Yoav Saffar and Tal Burstein hit 9 points each in key moments down the stretch and Marcus Goree pulled 10 rebounds. For Montepaschi, Vrbica Stefanov drilled 18 points, followed by Dusan Vukcevic with 12 and Alphonso Ford with 10. Mirsad Turkcan added 9 points and 18 rebounds.
From the earliest minutes, both teams started their thrilling duel with high percentage shooting and tough battles under the rims between centers Roberto Chiacig of Siena and Huseyin Besok of Maccabi. Montepaschi ran its fastbreaks under the direction Vrbica Stefanov, a bullet in the open court, but suffered when Vujcic made himself a tiger under the boards. Maccabi handled 7 offensive rebounds in the early minutes and Chiacig went to the bench with foul trouble after 6 minutes. Montepaschi took a 17-14 lead at the end of the first period.
To start the second quarter, Alphonso Ford arrived to the match through the front door for Montepaschi. The first two balls to touch his hands became 4 points for his team, a simple mathematical equation. David Bluthenthal gave to the Italian crowd his business card, however, with a triple for Maccabi. Montepaschi switched to a zone-press defense and, thanks to Ferdinando Gentile and his smoking left hand, author of 2 three-pointers in 6 minutes, Siena escaped to the first major lead, 32-23. Montepaschi fought, but at the same time kept struggling under the boards. Maccabi went deep to the bench and switched to a 2-3 defense that finally forced some misses on Montepaschi. Still, the hosts were able to reach the locker room with a 36-29 lead. Ford was up to 9 points, Stefanov 8 and Mirsad Turkcan 10 rebounds for Montepaschi. Besok had 8 points and Vujcic 6 and 6 rebounds for Maccabi.
Maccabi's comeback started right after halftime with a 1-8 run over 3 minutes that finished with a Beno Udrih jump shot marking a tie score, 37-37. The match went on fire with two shots from the arc, drilled by Turkcan and Yoav Saffar, which indicated the close balance that prevailed. Back and forth it went again until Saffar tied again at 46-46 with a jumper. Marcus canned a layup for Maccabi's first lead, 46-48, and Saffar again hit from the paint, for his ninth point in 10 minutes, completing a 6-0 run and closing the quarter with Maccabi ahead 46-50.
Turkcan opened the last quarter with a coast-to-coast run and a sweet assist for Vukcevic, who was his team's first player in double digits. Maccabi switched to a match-up zone, but Stefanov burnt it with a drive before Vujcic and then Derrick Sharp lessened the damage with triples that made it 51-58 Maccabi. When Tal Burstein sank an open shot from the 6.25 line, the Maccabi advantage climbed to 10 points with 5 minutes to go. Down 7 with 3 minutes to play, Stefanov rallied Montepaschi with a triple plus a two-point basket to within 63-67 with 1 minute, 40 seconds left. But that's when Vujcic made his block at one end and then sank a jumper at the other around the one-minute mark to put Maccabi in the clear for a road victory that will count as much more than that at home in Tel Aviv.
Thursday, December 19, 2002