Maccabi Tel Aviv had not played in Nokia Arena all season because it was being fitted for new seats. It took the Euroleague champs awhile to get reaccustomed in their first Regular Season home game on Thursday, but when they did, not even mighty Montepaschi could withstand the rush. Down 18 in the first half, Maccabi stormed all the way back to win 93-88 over Montepaschi thanks to 9 points in a row in the closing minutes from Tal Burstein. Maccabi is now 2-0 atop Group B, while Montepaschi falls to 1-1. Sarunas Jasikevicius led the winners with 22 points, while Maceo Baston and Anthony Parker added 19 each. But it was Burstein, who finished with 16, who scored when it mattered most to complete the Maccabi comeback. Montepaschi got 16 points from Bootsy Thornton, almost all in the first quarter, when he hit 4 of his 5 three-pointers. Thornton's injury in the third quarter hurt Montepaschi's power to resist Maccabi. David Vanterpool and Carlton Myers popped 15 points each for Montepaschi, Giacomo Galanda 12 and Vrbica Stefanov 10.
Montepaschi started strong on both sides of the court, with Benjamin Eze blocking Nikola Vujcic on one end and then Thornton making his first three on the other. The Tel Aviv fans couldn't have known that was the beginning of an avalanche. Thornton continued with the hot hand, scoring on each of Montepaschi's first three possessions to give the visitors an early lead. It appeared that the tide started to turn with 4:20 left in the quarter, when Jasikevicius stripped the ball from David Vanterpool, against whom an intentional foul was called. Jasikevicius made the free throws and on the ensuing play Burstein nailed a three-pointer to put the hosts up 15-12. But Montepaschi was unfazed. Its defense had answers for Week 1 co-MVP Yaniv Green, whom they blocked twice, while Giacomo Galanda scored twice inside and Thornton made another three to put Montepaschi up 16-20. The teams matched each other on the remaining plays as the period ended 20-24 for the guests.
Thornton remained hot in the second period, which he started with fifth triple. That was followed by Carlton Myers's first, which stretched the Montepaschi lead to 20-31 and forced a Maccabi timeout. The home team's steadiest contributor thus far, Maceo Baston, made 2 free throws to stop the bleeding, but Myers, Vrbica Stefanov, and Mikalis Kakiouzis came right back with triples to silence the sold-out Nokia Arena crowd. By the time Vanterpool made 2 from the charity stripe, Siena led 24-42. Maccabi hit back with Baston and Nestoras Kommatos on the break, then Jasikevicius scored and was fouled in the process to bring the crowd to its feet. His free throw completed a 7-0 run that cut the deficit to 10 points. Free throws by Baston, Vujcic, and Parker offset by 2 from Stefanov in the final minute sent the teams to the locker rooms with Montepaschi up 39-49.
Vujcic and Galanda came out dueling in the third quarter scoring their teams' first 5 points each. Kommatos then took the torch for Maccabi, adding a three. With the momentum in hand, Maccabi continued to attack and Burstein went hard to the basket, drew a foul, and made his free throws to get Maccabi within 6 points. More important for Montepasch was the fact that Thornton went down hard on the play and needed to be carried off. Montepaschi didn't break, however, and continued to find open three-pointers for Myers, Stefanov, and Galanda to stay ahead 58-67. Jasikevicius scored, assisted Vujcic, then completed a 7-2 run with a three of his own to keep Maccabi close. He then passed to Parker for a triple from the corner that pulled the hosts within 69-70. After Eze missed his third free throw in a minute for Montepaschi, Jasikevicius drove the other way for Maccabi's first lead since the first quarter, but Myers ended the quarter with a three to preserve a 71-73 lead for the guests.
The scoring paced dropped a bit early in the fourth quarter, but Parker put Maccabi ahead with three solo efforts - two of which he scored on and another an assist that Baston slammed home. The lead lasted only a matter of seconds, however as Vanterpool raced downcourt to tie 77-77, then scored again inside to put the guests back in front. It began to look like the game would go down to the wire, but that's when Burstein stepped up. The Maccabi swingman scored the game's next 9 points, converting a three-point play assisted by Derrick Sharp, and then nailing a back-to-back triples from the arc to break the game open at 86-79 with under 3 minutes left. Parker finished off an 11-0 run with 2 free throws. When Vanterpool and Myers added 5 points for Montepaschi, Jasikevicius shut the door on their comeback with a final three-pointer to end the suspense.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Eran Sela, Tel Aviv