In a battle between the last two Euroleague champions, Winterthur FCB kept a hold of second place in Group B when it topped the first-place team, visiting Maccabi Tel Aviv, 81-79 on Thursday before a pumped-up crowd at home in Barcelona. The victory meant that Barcelona finished 9-5, one victory behind 10-4 Maccabi and one ahead of third-place Zalgiris. Barcelona would have lost a tie-break with Zalgiris if it was defeated. Maccabi was ahead early and often, paced by Saras Jasikevicius in his return to play against the team with whom he won his first Euroleague title, but Barcelona calmly took over to finish the job with defense. Dejan Bodiroga led the way for Barca with 20 points, whle Gregor Fucka stepped up a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds. Juan Carlos Navarro added 16 points and Rodrigo De la Fuente 10 for the winners. For Maccabi, Jasikevicius was the best scorer with 21 points. Maceo Baston added 15, Nikola Vujcic and Tal Burstein 12 each.
Vujcic spun in the paint to open the scoring and Baston added free throws for a quick 0-4 Maccabi advantage. Davis answered down low for Barcelona, whose tight defense soon allowed Bodiroga to finish a 5-0 run to take the lead. Jasikevicius then hit his first shot, in transition, and Maccabi set up in a zone defense that Fucka drove through to make it 10-11. Maccabi escaped as big men Vujcic and Baston handed a sweet assist to Jasikevicius, who added free throws for 9 points already in the visitors' 10-15 lead. Yaniv Green stepped off the bench and scored inside as Maccabi's run grew to 1-10 when Vujcic hit from long range for the first double-digit lead, 11-21. Barcelona still struggled on offense while Maccabi found the basket in two passes or less. Fucka finally slammed for the hosts' first points in more than 3 minutes as the quarter closed with Maccabi ahead 13-25.
Roger Grimau scored 3 points for Barcelona to start the second quarter, as Davis was unstoppable on the boards, grabbing his eighth rebound already. Still, Maccabi seemed to play at ease with an 11-point lead, 16-27. Scoring proved more difficult, however, during several minutes until Juan Carlos Navarro finally hit a fastbreak layup and the bonus free throw. he woon assisted assisted Fucka on a dunk to make it 21-27. Baston's dunk gave life back to Maccabi at 21-31, but Bodiroga blasted 4 straight points as the difference was trimmed to 28-33. Maccabi's offense slowed now, while 4 straight Barcelona free throws and a long jumper by Rodrigo De la Fuente capped an 11-2 run with a 32-33 score Barcelona switched to full-court press, and that led to Bodiroga finally putting the hosts ahead, 35-34, to close a second quarter in which Maccabi had scored only 9 points, 5 of them free throws.
Jasikevicius scored a backdoor layup to start the second half and restore the Maccabi edge. But Barcelona now found a way to run, and combined with efficiency on the offensive boards, 10 by now, managed to stay ahead 41-39 on a rainbow shot by Navarro. Baskets were exchanged up to a 43-43 tie, but everything was a two-pointers, as at that point, the teams were a combined 0-for-18 on triples. As Maccabi coach Pini Gershon kept Jasikevicius on court despite his 4 fouls, Navarro finally connected from downtown and then fed De la Fuente on the break for a 51-43 lead that had the home fans rocking. Maccabi survived now thanks to outstanding 21-for-24 free throw shooting, which soon allowed Baston's tip-in to cut the difference to 55-53. Vujcic buried 2 more free throws to tie, 55-55, but Navarro still had time for a last drive and a 57-55 Barcelona advantage after 30 minutes.
Baston opened the final quarter with a three-point play to put Maccabi ahead, but Grimau and Devin Davis took the lead right back at 61-58. Fucka tipped-in a missed three-pointer and Grimau finished a fastbreak for a 65-60 lead, and even when Baston quieted the crowd with an alley-oop dunk, Bodiroga replied with an open triple, just the second of the game between both teams, for 70-62. De la Fuente was huge on rebounds but Barcelona failed to move further in front, and Parker's free throws made it 70-66. Navarro blasted a super-triple on the 24-second buzzer, bringing the house down, but Jasikevicius finally added one of his own and Deon Thomas got a basket-plus-free throw to make it a one-point game, 73-72 with 3 minutes to go. Despite having blasted 21 points against his former team, Jasikevicius was given a standing ovation when he left the court with his fifth foul. Fucka foul shots made it 76-74 with 1 minute to go and Thomas tied, also on free throws, but Bodiroga was Barcelona's savior with a new triple, making it 79-76 with 36 seconds to go. Following a Maccabi offensive rebound and a timeout, Burstein managed to blast a three-pointer that silenced Palau Blaugrana and tied the game 79-79. Fucka finished it, however, with a game-winning tip-in with a second left, as after another timeout, Parker's triple missed and both teams looked ahead to the Top 16.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
J.A. Casanova, Barcelona