Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv turned back the clock with a classic performance in a 91-83 win over Cibona Zagreb on Thursday night at Nokia Arena to secure a berth in the Top 16. Maccabi received fantastic performances from three of its biggest stars left from the dynasty that won back-to-back Euroleague titles and reached another final in recent years. All-Euroleague center turned in 29 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks to lead the charge. Team captain Derrick Sharp was 4-of-6 from downtown on his way to 19 points and a career-high 5 steals. But it was Tal Burstein who stole the show in his first home game since suffering an Achilles injury last June. Burstein finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists without a single turnover in 31 minutes. Rookie Lior Eliyahu showed Maccabi has a future too with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Cibona seemed on the verge of taking its first road win of the season as it led by as many as 16 in the second quarter and took a 41-55 lead early in the third quarter. But Vujcic and Burstein keyed an 11-0 run to get back in the game, Burstein then tied the game for the first time and gave Maccabi the lead for good early in the fourth quarter as coach Neven Spahija's team won its 14th straight home game. Maccabi improved to 7-5, while Cibona dropped to 5-7. Chris Warren led Cibona with 23 points, Davor Kus added 19 points and 4 assists, Barisa Krasic fired in 15 and Andrew Wisniewsky scored all 11 of his points in the first half. Brent Wright grabbed 9 rebounds for Cibona, but shot 0-for-8 and finished with just 2 points.
Cibona won the opening tip and went up on Luksa Andric's three-pointer. It took a minute for Maccabi's response and it came when Will Bynum fed Eliyahu for a slam. Vujcic and Andric traded free throws before Bynum thrilled the crowd with an electrifying baseline drive and dunk over Andric. Cibona continued to look for Andric, who put Cibona up 7-8 from the line. Maccabi also played inside, with Vujcic setting Eliyahu up for another slam and then scoring a basket of his own to tie the game at 11-11 midway through the period. Kus's second triple of the day swung the lead back to the visitors and Warren added two from the line and Wisniewsky turned a Bynum turnover into an easy layup to make it 14-19. Maccabi took its first timeout and came back with a jumper from Sharp. Burstein was the next to check in, but that made no impression on Wisniewsky, whose three made it 16-24. Cibona remained in control as Kus sank a free throw to cap a 2-15 run that put Cibona up 11. Sharp fired in a three, but Brent Wright drew a foul on the offensive glass and ended the opening period with a pair of free throws for a 19-29 Cibona lead.
Warren opened the second period with a triple, Krasic did the same and then Wisniewsky sliced through the Maccabi defense for 2 more to give Cibona its biggest lead of the game, 21-37. Vujcic looked to get Maccabi going, but Wisniewsky was always there for Cibona. A Burstein jumper ignited the crowd and Simas Jasaitas and Eliyahu cut the deficit to 9 from the line. Maccabi continued to surge and Jasaitas's fast break bucket caused Cibona coach Drazen Anzulovic to take a timeout. Krasic ended the Cibona drought with a three-pointer from the top of the key and Marin Rozic restored a 10-point Cibona lead with a minute left till halftime. Another Vujcic-to-Eliyahu slam was erased by Kus's jumper, but Sharp drew a foul while attempting a three and made three from the line for a 39-46 scoreline.
Cibona came out for the second half roaring as Kus drilled a pair of threes. Vujcic scored for Maccabi, but Warren rifled in a triple of his own for a 41-55 Cibona advantage. Though things weren't looking good for the home team, Vujcic and Burstein were completely unfased. Vujcic scored inside and then fed Eliyahu to trim the deficit to 10. Krasic drilled a triple, but Maccabi had its game rolling now. Vujcic's three-point play highlighted an 11-0 run as Maccabi closed the gap to 56-58. Krasic fired in another three, but Sharp answered from downtown and a minute later Burstein's triple tied the game at 62-62. Warren put Cibona back on top, but Yotam Halperin's steal and basket knotted the score once more. Krasic scored for Cibona, but Vujcic's hook beat the third quarter buzzer and tied the game at 66-66 after 30 minutes.
Burstein's free throws at the start of the fourth quarter gave Maccabi its first lead since the first quarter. Burstein then brought the crowd to its feet with a triple and Sharp's hustle on the other end – drawing an offensive foul from Warren – confirmed that the momentum was yellow-and-blue. Vujcic's next basket made it 73-66. Cibona's timeout changed nothing as Vujcic made and missed a free throw, Maccabi took the offensive rebound and Bursten fed Vujcic for 2 more and a 10-point lead for the hosts. Marin Rozic finally came through from downtown for Cibona, ending a 4-minute scoring drought. But Vujcic and Burstein continued to push Maccabi ahead. Warren drilled his third three of the night and added a jumper to keep Cibona in the picture at 80-74. A technical problem with the scoreboard caused a stop in play after which Sharp nailed a three from the corner with 3 minutes remaining. After Rozic missed a three for Cibona, Halperin corrected his own miss as the visiting team's chances started to disappear. Kus's free throws made it 78-85 with a minute-and-a-half left, but Sharp answered the call again from downtown to wrap up the outcome.
Thursday, January 18, 2007