In a game full of post-season fever, Lietuvos Rytas broke its three-game losing streak by downing Maccabi 88-83 at home in Vilnius on Thursday to move ahead of the defending champs in Group B. Both teams now have 8-5 records, but if they remain tied after the regular season ends next week, L.Rytas will finish higher due to having beaten Maccabi twice. Simas Jasaitis was the hero for L. Rytas with 21 points including 4 three-pointers, the last of which sealed the victory. Matt Nielsen followed with 16 points, Haris Mujezinovic with 14 and Robertas Javtokas with 10 for the winners. Anthony Parker led the way for Maccabi with 22 points and 8 rebounds. Will Solomon and Derrick Sharp each had 17, Nikola Vujcic 14 and Maceo Baston a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds for Maccabi. The champs trailed 39-20 in the second quarter before Parker, Sharp and Solomon led a comeback that produced a 49-52 Maccabi lead soon after halftime. It went back-and-forth into the final minutes, when a Jasaitis triple with 4 minutes left erased Maccabi's last lead, and his last, from the corner to start the final minute, proved to a sellout crowd of 11,000 in Vilnius that their team was back.
Point guard Maurice Baker, starting in place of injured Roberts Stelmahers, got L. Rytas going with a fastbreak layup to which Frederick House added a pair of baskets off steals to establish a quick 6-0 lead. Maccabi responded with 5 points on a Parker triple and Maceo Baston inside. Matthew Nielsen hit the first shot from downtown for the hosts, and then Parker scored in the paint and at the line to make it 9-10 for the visitors. Their first lead was their last one for quite awhile. Javotkas spun inside for a dunk and Jasaitis drove for his first basket to put the hosts ahead again, After Parker scored again in the paint, Javtokas rocked the rim at the other end with two more dunks that made it 17-12. And L. Rytas was just getting going. Haris Mujezinovic rose off the bench and got to the line for free throws before Jasaitis went wild. He followed a three-point fastbreak layup-plus-free throw with a pair of shots from the arc during a 14-0 run in which the L. Rytas defense just kept taking the ball from Maccabi on the way to a 31-14 lead after 10 minutes.
Baston opened the second quarter with a mid-range jumper in the paint, while Javtokas answered with a semi-hook. Derrick Sharp got fouled shooting a triple, but made only 2 of 3 free throws. Vujcic got his first basket on a hook shot that Mindaugas Lukauskis answered from the arc. When Muzejinovic lined up and hit his own shot from downtown, L. Rytas had its biggest lead, 39-20, and there was dancing in the aisles in Vilnius. That would not last long, either. Sharp struck back with a triple and Solomon scored in the paint before Parker nailed his own three-pointer from the corner. Only free throws by Sandis Buskevics interrupted Maccabi as Solomon, Parker and Sharp continued for 9 more unanswered points for a total run of 2-17 and whole new scoreboard, 41-37. Nielsen and Parker exchaged free throws before Solomon penetrated and got to the line himself for 4 points that tied the score at 43-43 just 5 minutes after Maccabi had been behind 19 points. Tomas Delininkaitis saved the lead for L. Rytas with a desparation shot from downtown and a free throw to leave a 47-43 score at halftime.
After a minute without scoring, Vujcic got the second half going with a basket-plus-free throw to get Maccabi within 47-46. Nielsen held back the guests with a layup, but only until Vujcic shot again and Parker hit free throws for a new Maccabi lead, 49-50. It was a key moment, and L. Rytas responded by retaking the lead by with layups by Nielsen and Sandis Buskevics. Baston joined the fray with a free throw and tip-in before Vujcic fired in a triple for his 10th point in the quarter and Maccabi's biggest lead, 53-58, in the 27th minute. A tense minute followed before L. Rytas could breath again as Nielsen hit foul shots and then a steal sent Jasaitis long for a tremendous dunk. The teams traded baskets before Mujezinovic worked his way to the line for 4 perfect free throws tht put the hosts in front again, 65-62. He crowned his big quarter with a dunk and L. Rytas had a 68-62 margin and the crowd behind it again after 30 minutes.
When Mujezinovic started the last quarter with a triple, it seemed L. Rytas had all the momentum to go with a 71-62 lead following an 18-4 run over the previous 5 minutes. Not so. Sharp's free throws started a 0-9 blast for Maccabi in which he also drove for a layup and fired in a three-pointer that tied the score, 71-71. The drama kept soaring as Buskevics put L. Rytas back in front with a triple, only to see it answered a minute later by Solomon. Another minute later, Solomon finished a fastbreak to put the champs ahead again, 74-76. But that was their last lead. Jasaitis answered with a high triple from the corner, supplying a lead that L. Rytas nursed along with inside baskets by Nielsen and Javtokas. Tomas Delininkaitis then made free throws for an 83-79 lead, but Parker landed one of his patented jumpers to keep Maccabi in striking range going into the final minute. Both teams missed twice in that minute before Delininkaitis passed to Jasaitis in the corner, and his shot hit the bottom again. After a double-timeout by Maccabi, Solomon got a layup, but Delininkaitis sealed with free throws a victory that could be worth its weight in gold to Lietuvos Rytas soon.
Thursday, February 2, 2006