Tau Ceramica clinched first place in Group D and home-court advantage in the Quarterfinal Playoffs with a big win over Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv on a record-breaking night at the Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain. Tau topped Maccabi 94-73 as star power forward Luis Scola scored 25 points to become the all-time Euroleague top scorer. Scola now has 1,998, passing injured Unicaja guard Marcus Brown (1,979). Fittingly, Scola set the mark in front of the third player on the list, Maccabi center Nikola Vujcic, who scored only 6 to give him 1,774 for his career. Tau also set a Euroleague mark with 26 straight home wins. Tau last lost at home on January 12, 2005 against CSKA, 81-85. Tau shared the previous record with Winterthur FC Barcelona, which also won 25 straight home games between November 8, 2001 and March 10, 2004. Scola scored 19 in the first half as the hosts put the game away early. Tau led by 10 after 10 minutes and were up 50-33 at halftime. Maccabi never made a serious comeback and finished with its second-worst Euroleague defeat all decade. Maccabi lost 94-71 at Armani Jeans Milano last January. Tiago Splitter scored 16 for Tau, Ender Arslan had 11 and Fred House 10. Kaya Peker and Zoran Planinic added 9 apiece. Lior Eliyahu led Maccabi with 19 points and 11 rebounds, Tal Burstein had 11 and Derrick Sharp 10 in defeat.
Tau needed just a minute to take its first lead on a three-pointer by House, as Maccabi got off to a cold start with Eliyahu as its only real weapon on court. The rookie was the only yellow able to score in the first 4 minutes, while the hosts fed Scola inside for an 11-4 lead to force an urgent timeout by Maccabi coach Neven Spahija. The break stopped Tau a bit, as Eliyahu continued his own show to score 4 more unanswered points and bring Maccabi within 11-8 after 5 minutes. Then it was Scola who came to the rescue. The Argentinean power forward became scored his record-breaking basket with a mid-range jumper and followed it with a fastbreak slam that boosted Tau to 15-8 midway though the first period. House increased the margin from the free throw line before Simas Jasaitis became the second visiting player to score with a three-pointer that made it a 6-point game. The next spark came from Splitter, who came up big in the paint and ignited a 6-0 run for a double-digit lead with 1 minute to go. Jasaitis and Planinic exchanged baskets in the last seconds to close the first period with a 25-15 lead for the hosts.
Things only got worse for the visitors, as Planinic took over for Tau and followed a long-range jumper with a two-handed dunk to raise the difference to 30-15. Maccabi's drought ended after Goran Jeretin finished a fastbreak with a layup, but it meant almost nothing against a full-throttled Tau. Scola hit inside once again and when Maccabi switched to zone defense, Planinic broke it easily with a drive to feed Peker for a 34-17 lead. Scola wasn’t happy though until he recorded 4 more points inside to give his team a 21-points margin midway through the second quarter. But when Tau's captain left the court, things started to improve for the guests. Jeretin hit three times from the free-throw line, followed by a three-point play by Eliyahu and a jumper by Burstein that took Maccabi within 38-25 with 4 minutes to go. Tau coach Natxo Lezkano tried to warn his players during a timeout and they reacted quickly with a better defensive effort and faster transitions. A dunk by Splitter and a triple from the corner by Serkan Erdogan prevented Maccabi from rallying. The frustrated visitors returned to poor shooting in offense. The margin remained from that point, as two free throws by Will Bynum closed the half with Tau holding a very comfortable 50-33 advantage.
Scola opened fire after intermission, but Maccabi came out more focused in offense and managed a 0-7 run behind a three-point play by Sharp, a nice layup by Jasaitis and a dunk by Vujcic to make it a 12-point game. Even though Splitter came to the rescue with another three-point play, the face of the game was a bit different. Bynum proved it with a monster one-handed dunk on an offensive rebound, which caused Tau to take a timeout leading 55-42. The break was pretty useful for the hosts, who returned more focused on defense as only Sharp remained a menace. On the other side, Maccabi managed to slow down Tau's offense a bit, but Pablo Prigioni hit once from downtown and drew a three-point foul for a 62-45 lead with three minutes to go. The yellows tried again a zone defense in an attempt to make Tau uncomfortable, but it seemed that nothing would stop the hosts as Splitter kept rocking inside. A buzzer-beating three from Burstein kept Maccabi within 70-54 at the end of the third quarter.
Sharon Shason made it a 13-point game with a three-pointer to start the fourth period, but Tau found the answer in with Peker, who capped a nice fastbreak with a double-handed dunk and Arslan, who hit from downtown for a 75-59 lead. Nothing seemed to work for the yellows, as no one was able to get anything done playing one-on-one. Arslan remained hot and hit from downtown once again for an 80-59 margin with 5 minutes to go. Eliyahu answered with 6 points in a row, but the main problem for Maccabi was at the defensive end. Each Tau offense ended up with a point or a foul, preventing Maccabi from reducing the gap to more reasonable numbers. With the outcome in no doubt, both teams used the last minutes to please the crowd as Tau sealed a big win.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007