Maccabi Tel Aviv became the first of the eight teams to qualify for the quarterfinal playoffs when its defense led the way to a commanding 67-83 Group D road win over Ulker in Istanbul on Thursday. Besides guaranteeing itself either first or second place in Group D, Maccabi is now the only undefeated team left in the Top 16, with a 4-0 record. Ulker dropped to 1-3 and will have to win the two remaining games to retain full options to advance. The game hit the break with a 44-43 Ulker lead, but in the third quarter Maccabi held the hosts to only 4 points, the lowest ever scored by a home team in a quarter of a Euroleague game. In the last quarter, Maccabi cruised to the victory led by Maceo Baston with 17 points, the best scorer among six players in double digits for the guests. Deon Thomas and Nikola Vujcic posted 13 each for Maccabi, while Anthony Parker and Tal Burstein added 12 apiece, Sarunas Jasikevicius 10 with 7. For Ulker, Serkan Erdogan soared with 21 points to lead all scorers, while Tutku Acik added 11 and Kerem Gonlum pulled 10 rebounds.
Erdogan's first three-pointer of the night gave Ulker an early 5-2 lead that its defense worked hard to preserve, but by the time Parker and Baston had their first dunks, Maccabi had tied 8-8. Ulker stayed a basket ahead until Baston against tied it, 12-12, this time with a free throw, before Erdogan put his team on his shoulders. Back-to-back jump shots that included his second triple sent Ulker up 17-12, its biggest lead of the quarter, but the hosts were hurt when Saulius Stombergas went off with his third foul already, less than 6 minutes into the action. Maccabi got to the free throw line for the next 4 points, but Dusan Vukcevic, Erdogan and Kerem Tunceri regained the five-point lead, 26-21, with a string of triples from the arc. Burstein, however, was there to sink his own pair of three-pointers for Maccabi and thereby keep the guests as close as 26-24 after 10 minutes.
After Baston's free throws started the second quarter with a tie, 26-26, Ulker took control of the proccedings. Eurelijus Zukauskas dunked, Erdogan sank a jumper Virginijus Praskevicius blasted a three-pointer in a 7-0 run for the hosts that made it 33-26 while Maccabi struggled with turnovers. But Maccabi could not be contained for long, and with its own turnovers, Ulker missed a missed a chance in the middle of the quarter to open the gap wider. Vujcic and Thomas started Maccabi back with inside baskets before Jasikevicius made free throws to cut the lead to 34-32. Tutku Acik gave Ulker some breathing room with a triple, but Maccabi kept coming hard. A three-point play by Thomas and another basket in close by Vujcic finally tied it, 39-39. Erdogan would strike again from the arc to put Ulker back in front, 44-41, before Vujcic ended the quarter scoring again for a 44-43 scoreboard at the break.
Then came the side of Maccabi that few experts anywhere would have expected. It began with a thunderous start after halftime that featured Anthony Parker and Baston in a 0-9 run that put the visitors in charge at 44-52. Maccabi was not done, but Ulker soon would be, despite a layup by Acik. Baston soon scored off a great assist by Jasikevicius right before Burstein send the lead into double digits, at 46-57, with an open layup. Maccabi, slowly but surely, was playing the same kind of suffocating defense that Ulker had used all season long. And the hosts were unable to break through it. Acik's basket would be the only Ulker points for more than 9 minutes as Vujcic added 6 points, including a triple, to a Maccabi lead that now reached 46-61. A pair of single free throws near the end of the quarter were the only additional points Maccabi allowed to Ulker, whose 4 points were the lowest in any quarter ever by a Euroleague home team, just 2 more than the absolute record set a week prior, when Efes held Benetton to 2 points. As such, the third quarter ended with Maccabi holding a 48-64 lead that looked unbeatable already.
Maccabi's defense kept working hard in the final quarter until Jasikevicius supplied a 20-point advantage, 50-70, and soon added a three-pointer for his team's highest lead of the night, 51-73. Maccabi's zone defense, sometimes changed to a box-and-one or a matchup zone, kept the Ulker players from making quick decisions and continued frustrating the hosts' possessions as in the third quarter. With Thomas and Derrick Sharp piccking up the scoring load now, the closing minutes passed with Maccabi holding a lead of 17 points or more until the very last basket of the game, by which time the visitors had their thoughts on future challenges and Ulker's players on how to survive the Top 16.
Thursday, March 17, 2005