Two-time defending champion Maccabi Elite clinched a spot in the Quarterfinal Playoffs from Group E with an 82-76 victory over Climamio Bologna at home in Tel Aviv's Nokia Arena on Thursday. The victory lifted Maccabi's record to 4-1, while eliminating Climamio, which fell to 1-4. Maccabi is now in a race for first place with Real Madrid, which defeated Ulker by 21 points also on Thursday, to qualify and take the inside track for first place should both teams either win or lose in their last games next week. On Thursday, Nikola Vujcic, Anthony Parker and Jamie Arnold scored 15 points each to lead Maccabi, while Sani Becirovic put in a game-high 19 in defeat for Climamio. Maccabi roared out to a double-digit lead after just five minutes, but Becirovic led the charge as Bologna tied the game late in the second period. However Maccabi remained cool and grabbed a 46-42 halftime lead. The hosts broke the game open with an 11-2 third quarter run, despite the best efforts of Yakhouba Diawara, who finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Bologna found a way to trim the gap late in the fourth, but it would prove to be too little, too late.
Climamio won the opening tip, but that was one of the only things that went well for the visitors early. Baston swatted Stefano Mancinelli's first shot before Solomon found Vujcic wide open for a three-pointer at the other end. As Climamio turned the ball over twice, Maccabi looked to pull away early. Parker assisted Vujcic for a bank shot and then a triple to make it 10-2, with only Becirovic finding the hoop for Climamio in the first 3 minutes. Vujcic spotted Parker in the corner for a three-pointer and then hit a hook shot as the lead reached double figures. Kiwane Garris, with a triple after nearly 6 minutes, became Climamio's second player to score and cut the difference to 17-9. Climamio's early substitutions paid off as Nate Green now helped keep the guests in the game. His layup and pair of mid-range jumperr, both after offensive rebounds, helped cut the deficit further, but Arnold came off the bench to make 6 of 6 free throws to help keep Maccabi in charge, 27-20 lead after 10 minutes.
The pace dropped to start the second quarter, but Travis Watson's slam for Climmio got it backl. With the ball now ping-ponging up-and-down the court, Parker and Belinelli swapped three-pointers, Baston downed a two-hand slam and Becirovic hit a pair of free throws. Derrick Sharp put his stamp on things with a jumper and a triple that boosted Maccabi's advantage to 38-29 and forced a Climamio timeout. It worked, too, as Diawara entered and threw down a two-handed jam in traffic before Garris swished free throws to keep things close. Parker miss on the next three Maccabi possessions, including a failed dunk, while Becirovic scored in transition and then pulled up for a triple to cap a 0-9 run that was enough to forge a tie at 38-38. After its own timeout, Maccabi finally got a basket from Arnold inside. He returned with free throws a minute later, just before Sharon Shason stepped on-court, grabbed the rebound and hit a three-pointer to put Maccabi up more on the way to a 46-42 halftime lead.
Diawara made his presence felt early in the third quarter, but multiple Climamio turnovers prevented the visitors from making a move. After Belinelli and Sharp traded triples, Parker hit his third from downtown to boost keep Maccabi in front by 56-49. After a timeout, Maccabi came out sharper. Tal Burstein drove for one basket while Solomon fed Baston on the baseline for a slam to make it 60-49. Offensive rebounding gave the visitors some long possessions, but aside from a Diawara put-back, Climamio couldn't find the basket. Solomon, scoreless until then, got his first points at the free throw line, with 4 in a row at the end of the quarter that put Maccabi up 66-53.
Solomon fed Arnold for a slam on the first play of the fourth quarter to boost the lead to 15 points, 68-53. Belinelli scored a layup and a three-pointer to keep Climamio from getting blown away, but with Maccabi scoring on nearly every possession, a comeback wasn't looking likely. Solomon's shot from downtown made the differenc 15 points again, and when Diawara and Green made 4 free throws, Vujcic answered with his third triple. Dalibor Bagaric had some success scoring in the paint and then free throws gave Becirovic his first points of the second half, but they only made it 80-70 with 3:13 remaining. After a couple turnovers however, Vujcic sent Parker downcourt for an open slam to calm the hosts as time began to tick away on Climamio's chances of winning and staying alive for the Quarterfinal Playoffs. Lorbek's basket with 15 seconds made it 82-76, but Maccabi ran out the clock from there, extending its own season into the next round while sending Climamio home for good.
Thursday, March 23, 2006