Maccabi Tel Aviv took care of business with a quick 88-72 win over Winterthur Barcelona on Thursday night at Nokia Arena and then waited for the other Group B games to learn that it eclipsed Efes Pilsen and Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius for first place and a top seed in Monday's Top 16 draw. Maccabi pulled away with a 12-2 run in the third quarter, but the interest continued for 10 minutes after the final whistle. Efes's loss at Cibona allowed Maccabi to climb into first via the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two. Maccabi stole the ball 17 times, hit 83% of its free throws and 40% of its three-pointers en route to the victory. Maceo Baston was the star for the winners, with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Will Solomon added 16 points, Anthony Parker 13, Tal Burstein 12 and Nikola Vujcic 11 and 6 assists. Juan Carlos Navarro was in fine form early for the visitors with 15 first-half points, but didn't score in the second half. Jordi Trias and Rodrigo De La Fuente added 10 apiece in defeat.
Maccabi controlled the opening tip and went straight inside to Vujcic, who scored and drew a foul from Gregor Fucka to put the hosts up 3-0. Barcelona's first points came after a minute when Navarro drilled a three-pointer to make it 5-3. Maccabi continued to push the ball inside and draw fouls, with Baston and Parker picking up a pair from Rodrigo De La Fuente in the first 2 minutes. Baston made another free throw and then corrected Solomon's miss with a powerful slam to put the hosts on top 11-5. Fucka got Barca back on the board from close range and soon Navarro and De La Fuente hit triples to close the gap. Baston continued to dominate the offensive glass, so Barcelona coach Dusko Ivanovic called upon big Denis Marconato to restore order. Marconato scored on one end and got in Baston's face on the other to allow the visitors to remain close. After Marconato tied the score 21-21, Baston picked up a Parker miss for yet another dunk to end the quarter with Maccabi ahead 23-21.
The second quarter started as the Navarro show, but as his confidence grew, his shots got wilder and Ivanovic soon called upon Gianluca Basile. Until that point, Navarro had made a pair of free throws, a long jumper and a three-pointer to give the visitors a 26-28 lead. Solomon tied from the foul line, but Mikalis Kakiouzis and Basile made layups to keep the visitors in front, 28-32. Barcelona's lead crumbled due to 5 consecutive turnovers. A pair of Parker buckets tied it and Kirk Penney's jumper put Maccabi ahead again. Basile's free throws stopped Barcelona's slide, but didn't prevent 2 more turnovers. Derrick Sharp took advantage with a four-point triple-plus-free throw give Maccabi the lead at 37-33. Marc Gasol tipped in a Kakiouzis miss to close the gap and the final minute of the half proved scoreless as Maccabi took a 37-35 advantage into the break.
Solomon and Kakiouzis traded baskets to start the second half before soon Maccabi rocketed ahead. All five home starters scored during a 12-2 run that was part Maccabi defense, part poor Barcelona outside shooting and part an effective transition game. Shammond Williams drilled a three from the top of the key to stop the Maccabi run, but the momentum remained with the hosts when Vujcic set up Parker for an alley-oop slam to the delight of the sold-out crowd that made it 51-41. Williams took on the entire Maccabi defense for another basket, but a Tal Burstein triple denied Barcelona a chance to get closer. After Jamie Arnold hit a hook and Solomon a triple, the Maccabi lead was up to 15. De La Fuente threw in a three, but then to the surprise of everyone Baston did as well. Trias showed signs of a fight when he dunked on the break, drew a foul, missed the free throw, grabbed his rebound and scored, but Solomon found Vujcic for a three-point play to keep Maccabi comfortably ahead 67-55 after three quarters.
Basile misfired to start the fourth as the minutes began ticking away for the visitors. Roger Grimau made a triple to close the gap to 10, but Kirk Penney answered in kind. Neither team had any real success with the ball, missing open jumpers and wild drives to the basket until Baston banked in a shot from close range and Burstein added a three-pointer to put Maccabi up 77-60. Grimau's efforts continued to bounce out. Bootsy Thornton finally ended 3 scoreless minutes for the guests with a hoop, but it was beginning to look like too little, too late with 3 minutes left. De La Fuente, Kakiouzis and Gasol lowered the difference to 9 points, but then Sharon Shason scored his first points from the arc and Maccabi slowly pulled away again to an 88-72 victory and a first-place finish in Group B.
Thursday, February 9, 2006
Frankie Sachs, Tel Aviv