Maccabi managed to become one of the top-seeded teams for the Top 16 Draw by beating Montepaschi Siena 88-86 in a thrilling Group B game in Tel Aviv on Thursday night. Sarunas Jasikevicius stepped up to score a three-meter jumper with 1.5 seconds to go to win the game for the hosts. Maccabi ended up the regular season with an 11-3 record, losing the tie-breaker for the first spot in Group B with CSKA Moscow, who beat Zalgiris in Kaunas at the buzzer. Still, Maccabi's record made it the best-ranked second team in the competition, which means it will head a Top 16 group. Meanwhile, Montepaschi fell to 7-7 and ended up fourth in Group B by winning a tie-breaker against Panathinaikos, whom it beat by +8 points in their two head-to-head games. Jasikevicius led Maccabi with 27 points on 7 of 9 two-pointers and 7 of 7 free throws, while also dishing 7 assists. Deon Thomas added 17 on 8 of 11 two-pointers off the bench, Anthony Parker 15 and and Maceo Baston 10 points for the hosts. Roberto Chiacig led all Montepaschi scorers with 15 points. Michalis Kakiouzis had 14 and 9 rebounds off the bench, David Andersen and Dusan Vukcevic 13 apiece, while Bootsy Thornton added 11 for the guests.
Things did not start well for Maccabi. The hosts missed their first 7 shots and went scoreless for a full 3 minutes to begin the game. Meanwhile, Montepaschi went on a 0-8 run in which Andersen scored 4 points while Dusan Vukcevic added a three-pointer from the left corner. Maccabi had to call timeout, and finally got going as 3 free throws by Jasikevicius ignited a 8-3 run. Baston scored in the low post and Tal Burnstein added a three-point play to make it a one-point game at 10-11. Montepaschi replied with a jump hook by Roberto Chiacig and a triple by Mindaugas Zukauskas pushed the guests ahead again, 10-17, although that was counter-balanced by David Vanterpool's third foul. A pair of free throws by Jasikevicius brought Maccabi within 16-19, but a three-pointer by Bootsy Thornton at the buzzer gave Montepaschi a 16-22 lead after 10 minutes.
Montepaschi started the second quarter at full speed, as a three-pointer by youngster Luca Vitali ignited a 0-8 run in which Thronton drilled another bomb from downtown, enough to extend the guests' lead to double digits at 19-30 and make Maccabi fans start to wonder. Jasikevicius stepped up for the hosts, scoring 7 points in 3 minutes while feeding Deon Thomas for an easy basket to trim the gap to 32-38. Chiacig took over soon after that with back-to-back baskets on pick-and-roll plays. Montepaschi then started to power the offensive rebounds, one of which Kakiouzis put back for a 12-point lead at 38-50. Thomas was instant offense for Maccabi in the final minute, as he scored 5 points which helped the hosts reach the locker room trailing by only 43-53. Montespaschi led the game due to its three-point accuracy, as the guests had made 9 of 13 three-pointers after 20 minutes.
Maccabi improved its defense after halftime, holding Montepaschi scoreless for 2 minutes while making its own 7-0 run highlighted by a big three-pointer by Parker. Thornton made a layup, but it didn't change the fact that Maccabi was on fire. The hosts regained the lead on a layup by Jasikevicius and 4 points by Parker, whose wild dunk put Maccabi in front again for the first time since the opening quarter. An easy basket by Thomas extended the lead to 59-55 and the run to 16-2. Vanterpool stopped Montepaschi's slide with 5 points that pushed the guests back into the lead at 59-60. Maccabi fired back with an 8-0 run in which as a fast break dunk by Parker and a basket by Vujcic gave the hosts a 67-60 lead. Nothing changed until the end of the quarter, as Parker added 2 free throws for 11 points in this quarter and a 71-64 Maccabi edge through 30 minutes.
Montepaschi got back in the game early in the fourth on back-to-back baskets by Chiacig and Kakiozis that made it a two-point game at 75-73. Maccabi struck back, as Jasikevicius, Thomas and David Bluthental scored in a 6-0 run to make it 81-73 with 5 minutes to go. Then the hosts struggled in the offensive end, as Jasikevicius was the only threat, while Montepaschi had its own 0-6 run in which Dusan Vukcevic drilled a jumper and Andersen added 2 free throws for an 84-83 score with less than 3 minutes to go. Jasikevicius made a layup, and Montepaschi missed 3 key free throws, one each by Thornton, Chiacig and Andersen. The last one that went in, by Andersen, tied the game 86-86 with 12.7 seconds to go. Maccabi had the final possession of the game, and Jasikevicius took over. He faked a penetration and stopped to drill a three-meter jumper with 1.5 seconds remainingto give his team the win. Montepaschi failed to shoot in its final possession, and Maccabi managed to enter the Top 16 with the right to be a top-seeded team.
Thursday, February 19, 2004