The charm of playing at home in Tel Aviv with a whole country behind it worked again for Maccabi Tel Aviv as it pulled off a last-minute 85-84 victory against visiting Montepaschi Siena on Thursday to take control of Group D in the Top 16. Sarunas Jasikevicius, after missing all 8 of his previous three-point tries, made the ninth one with 22 seconds left to win the game. Maccabi is now 2-0 and alone atop the group while Montepaschi fell to 1-1 and a tie for second place with Ulker. Heroics were shared for the winners by Nikola Vujcic, author of 30 points and 9 rebounds, closely followed by Anthony Parker, with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Jasikevicius had 13 points total. Montepaschi, playing without point guard Vrbica Stefanov, got 21 points and 10 rebounds from David Vanterpool, plus 14 points from Bootsy Thornton. Both of them missed free throws in the final minute, however, not to mention the last game-winning shot attempts before the buzzer sounded. Efthmios Rentzias added 12 and Roberto Chiacig 10 points for Montepaschi.
Despite Montepaschi jumped out to a 2-7 lead thanks to the strong play of center Roberto Chiacig, who sandwiched assists to Giacomo Galanda and Bootsy Thornton around a clever hook shot he made in the paint. Aggressive defense by Montepaschi and poor Maccabi outside shooting allowed the visitors to continue mounting an advantage, which reached 6-14 when Mindaugas Zukauskas made a pull-up three-pointer. Parker's first basket followed by a steal and layup from Jasikevicius kept Maccabi in the picture early Then, after Chiacig scored on a put-back, Maccabi reeled off 12 straight points, including 4 by Deon Thomas. A fastbreak dunk by Tal Burstein took back the lead and Maccabi held on by a 22-18 advantage when the first quarter ended.
The furious pace overlapped into second quarter, with Montepaschi now joining in. Substitute frontcourt men Efthimios Rentzias and Mikalis Kakiouzis got points inside and at the arc, respectively. Attention to them allowed Carlton Myers to work alone, drawing fouls that led to 4 free throws that put the visitors ahead again, 27-29. Davide Lamma drilled a triple and Kakiouzis free throws to make it 31-35. Parker - the only Maccabi player to score in the first 5 minutes of the quarter - kept Maccabi close, but without any other help, Maccabi slipped further behind. Myers, Thornton and Rentzias popped three-pointers on consecutive possessions as Montepaschi marched ahead 36-44. Just like in the opening quarter, however, Montepaschi cooled off in the last 3 minutes of the second, making only one more basket. Meanwhile, Parker scored the last 4 points of the half to reach 16 himself and pull Maccabi within 46-47 at the break.
Montepaschi learned its lesson and began double-teaming Parker to start the second half, collapsing Maccabi's attack. Maccabi made only one field goal through 6 minutes and 30 seconds, allowing Montepaschi to again cushion its lead as Vanterpool's twisting layup made it 49-55. Eventually, Vujcic stepped into the spotlight with a three-point basket-plus-free throw followed by a layup, energizing the crowd and sending Montepaschi into a stupor. Turnovers ensued for the visitors as Maccabi regained the lead, 58-57, on a pair of Derrick Sharp foul shots. Zukauskas answered with 2 of his own free throws for Montepaschi, and the lead would switch hands six more times in the next 3 minutes. Finally, Vujcic's second three-point play of the quarter gave Maccabi a 65-64 advantage after 30 minutes.
A Vanterpool jumper to start the fourth put Montepaschi on top again. The two teams would trade shots, misses, turnovers, fouls and the lead for the next 6 minutes. With Maccabi up 69-68, Giacomo Galanda made 1 of 2 free throws, but Rentzias rebounded and put back the second to give Montepaschi a 69-71 advantage. Vujcic tied the score again on the next possession and followed with his fourth basket of the quarter to put Maccabi back in front, 73-71, with 4 minutes to go. Zukauskas, Thornton and especially Vanterpool marched Montepasch back into the lead. And when Vanterpool added a triple to it, the visitors led 76-80 with just 2 minutes remaining. Vujcic spun around Rentzias for another hoop, but Vanterpool drew Parker's fifth foul and made both free throws. Vujcic came back with a hook, and when Vanterpool tried another triple, it missed, allowing Jasikevicius to tie on free throws, 82-82, heading into the final minute. With the noise in Nokia Arena at ear-piercing levels, Thornton and Vanterpool both went to the foul line, making only a free throw each, but leaving Montepaschi ahead 82-84 with half a minute left. Then, with 22 seconds on the clock, Jasikevicius lifted his ninth three-point try of the night. None of the others went in, but this one sure did. Montepaschi still got two chances to win it, but Thornton missed on a drive with 10 to go, and after an offensive rebound and timeout,Vanterpool's jumper at the buzzer fell short, letting Maccabi take control of Group D.
Thursday, March 3, 2005
Eran Sela, Tel Aviv