First place in Group A could fall to any one of three teams on the last game of the season after a thriller in Athens on Thursday saw Olympiakos beat leaders Maccabi 94-91 in overtime. Olympiakos, which blew a 19-point lead, climbs to 10-2, the same as Maccabi and Benetton Treviso. All three are already qualified for the Top 16, but they will duke it out for first-place honors in the regular season finale. Maccabi almost wrapped it up by pushing the game to overtime on Arriel McDonald's steal and lay up with 2 seconds left in regulation time, forging a 78-78 tie. James Forrest scored 8 of his 17 points in overtime to lead the Reds to victory. Stephan Risacher led the winners with 21 points and Euroleague leading scorer Alphonso Ford, who had foul trouble during the whole second half, added 17 point. Nate Haffman and Anthony Parker had 20 points each for Maccabi. The question remains is who is satisfied with the result? Maybe only Maccabi despite the loss becuase the Israels beat Olympiakos by five points (78-73) in their first meeting and now only lost by four, meaning the Israeli champs will win any tiebreaker against the Greeks.
Olympiakos played incredibly in the first half, taking a 16-point lead, 30-14, after 10 minutes behind the electric shooting of Risacher, who drained a trio of three-pointers on his way to 11 points in the quarter. Ford and Forrest added 9 and 7 points respectively. But the most important thing for the Greek team was its hard defense, especially on the perimeter. Arriel McDonald managed to score only 3 points, all from the free throw line, and Anthony Parker was held to zero. Only Nate Haffman seemed to be dangerous, but his 5 points were helped by a rare three-pointer, although Alexis Sevrosenko and Patrick Femerling did a fine defensive job on him.
In the second quarter, Maccabi coach David Blatt was concrete: "PLAY DEFENSE" he said, and his players followed his orders. Tal Burstein and Gur Shelef allowed Ford to make only two free throws, while Forrest put a basket and Risacher's contribution was zero points in the second period. The result was that the Israelis cut the deficit to three points as they entered the locker-room for the half down only 40-37. They had outscored Olympiakos 10-26 in the quarter. Yoav Saffar was a great offensive help, scoring 8 of those points, while his partner Parker hit a big three to first cut the deficit to 5 points, 40-35, a minute before the end of the second quarter.
When the third period started, the majority of the fans thought that Olympiakos would have great trouble after Ford¿s fourth foul! The opposite happened, as Risacher improved his scoring to 17 points and captain Milan Tomic added 9 of his own in the quarter to bring a new explosion. The Reds finished the third period with a 15-point lead, 62-47, proving that they can be competitive even without Ford, who was looking on from the bench. On the other hand, Maccabi tried to stay in the game, but the Israels had a terrible percentage from the field and not even one player with double digit points yet.
Olympiakos' incredible offensive performance translated into a 66-47 lead eight minutes before the end of the game. During this stretch, new coach Slobodan Subotic, who put great trust in veteran point guard Nikos Boudouris instead of Theodore Papaloukas, was very happy to see all of his centers contribute on offense. Femerling scored 11 points including a dunk over Huffman, and Ignacio De Miguel added 5 crucial points for the Reds. Still, Maccabi managed to cut the deficit to single digits, 70-61, after 35 minutes. Ford added two baskets to make it 77-68, but Parker never gave up. Hitting a wide open shot from the three-point line, he brought Maccabi to within six, 77-71, with just two minutes to go. Mark Brisker then scored five consecutive points to cut the margin to two, 78-76, 30 seconds before the end. In the final 5 seconds of regulation, McDonald stole the ball from Tomic and tied the game at 78-78. Tomic's half-court shot at the buzzer was too long and the two teams went to overtime.
At the beginning of the extra period, Huffman was fouled and converted a crucial basket to give Maccabi a three point lead, 80-83. Despite these efforts, Huffman and Parker were not enough to steal the victory from Olympiakos. The main reason was there were three players for the Greeks with high contributions down the stretch. Forrest scored 8 of his 17 points in overtime, Tomic added 4 points and Risacher sealed the win with two free-throws with 11 seconds to go as the Reds pulled away 93-89. Parker cut the margin to 93-91 after hitting a lay up, but Boudouris made a final free-throw that gave Olympiakos the 94-91 victory. Olympiakos players seemed satisfied that they managed to beat a great team like Maccabi Tel Aviv, although it was bitter-sweet as they didn't achieve a margin of victory of more than five points. In their first meeting, the Israels won 78-73 so they carry the advantage against Olympiakos.
Thursday, February 7, 2002