Another epic battle between two proud clubs ended with Zalgiris getting revenge on Maccabi in Tel Aviv with a 102-104 victory in Group B on Thursday. The shootout was reminiscent of the last game between those two teams in Tel Aviv, when a miracle buzzer-beater sent Maccabi to an overtime victory and an eventual Euroleague title won in the same building. This time, Zalgiris made sure with 2 free throws from Paulius Jankunas with 4 seconds left providing the final margin after a wild night. The victory pulled Zalgiris to an even 4-4 record and part of a three-way tie for third place with Barcelona and AEK. Maccabi dropped to 6-2 but retained first place. Maccabi had scored 35 points in the opening quarter but Zalgiris repaired its defense to get back in the game and win. Robert Pack led the winners with 26 points. Mindaugas Timinskas added 15, Dainius Salenga 14, Simonas Serapinas and Tanoka Beard 13 each. Beard also had 10 rebounds before fouling out in minute 22, but another Zalgiris big man, Darjus Lavrinovic came up big down the stretch and finished with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Maccabi came out firing as Jasikevicius nailed a three-pointer right off the opening tip. A minute later Tal Burstein hit from downtown and Maccabi was already up 8-2, but Zalgiris didn’t let up. Behind cuts to the basket by Timinskas and the muscle inside of Tanoka Beard, the visitors knotted the score at 8-8. Jasikevicius remained hot, however, adding 2 free throws, another shot from downtown and a short jumper to give him 10 points in 5 minutes. Both teams went to their benches early, but it didn’t affect their fast-paced scoring. Pack stunned the sellout Nokia Arena crowd with a powerful baseline jam that brought Zalgiris within 23-21, but again it was Maccabi’s own Lithuanian scorer, Jasikevicius, who stepped up. He hit a one-hander in the lane and followed it with his third triple before Yotam Halperin fed Anthony Parker on the break to complete a 7-0 spurt. Salenga hit a three to revive Zalgiris, but Halperin sealed the first-quarter shootout by giving Maccabi a 35-26 advantage.
Maccabi's lead reached 10 early in the second period on Deon Thomas's offensive rebound and three-point play. However the fouls kept mounting on the other end and by minute 12, Maccabi had 5 as a team, sending Zalgiris to the line the rest of the quarter. Zalgiris didn't take advantage of its free throws, but did respond to Maccabi's softer defense to reel off 9 unanswered points, pulling within 41-40 to force a Macabbi timeout that did not fix the problem. Pack stole the ball from Derrick Sharp on the ensuing play and threw down another dunk to give Zalgiris its first lead, 41-42. From that point both sides traded baskets, misses and the lead for the next few minutes. It was Zalgiris who got someone to take charge at the end of the quarter, Serapinas, whose 2 three-pointers counted for a 49-55 lead by the guests at the half.
Timinskas went and hit a three-pointer to start the third quarter, putting Zalgiris ahead by 9 points, 49-58. On the next play, however, Beard picked up his fourth foul. His teammates tried to help out, but after having been held to 14 points in the second quarter, Maccabi got going with 5 points, which could have been more if not for 3 missed shots. After a Thomas miss, Beard was called for going over the top on Maceo Baston, fouling out in minute 22 with a double-double already. Baston immediately stepped up on defense with a pair of huge blocks that intimidated Zalgiris. Maccabi continued to drive the ball inside and earn fouls, but since it missed free throws, when Serapinas did hit another triple, Zalgiris went up 56-63. Zalgiris then turned to Pack, who drew 3 quick fouls on Derrick Sharp. Soon, Parker initiated the momentum change for Maccabi with a three-pointer that cut the difference to 64-67 and a steal that forced a Zalgiris timeout. Parker continued to score all Maccabi's points in a 10-2 run that put the hosts ahead again, 70-69. Ainars Bagatskis answered with a triple for the visitors, but Parker got 2 more free throws, Baston a block and Nestoras Kommatos a jumper on the buzzer to give Maccabi a 78-75 advantage after 30 minutes.
As Parker rested after his 16-point third quarter, Zalgiris regained the lead as Pack scored 3 baskets in a 0-11 run that would put Zalgiris in charge again, 80-86, with 6:30 to go. Maccabi tightened its defense and limited Zalgiris to a single point over the next 2 minutes, but the hosts also struggled to score. Jasikevicius ended the drought with a triple and Parker drop in a one-hander for an 88-89 scoreboard. Darjus Lavrinovic proved a fourth-quarter hero for the visitors. He put back a Timinskas miss, then added free throws for an 89-93 advantage before blocking a shot by Jasikevicius on the two-minute mark. When Timinskas followed Lavrinovic's missed jumper, Zalgiris started to puts its arms around the victory. Lavrinovic got to the line twice more for 3 good free throws that drove the lead up to 98-91 with less than a minute to go. Jasikevicius was fouled shooting for three and made them all his free throws to keep Maccabi's hopes alive, especially after Paulius Jankunas missed a pair on the other end, evoking memories of Maccabi's comeback in last season's Top 16 game for a ticket to the Final Four. When Jasikevicius made 2 more free throws with 21.3 seconds to go, Maccabi was within 96-98. With the game on line, Pack ignored the piercing din to make 2 foul shots with 19 to go. Jasikevicius and Timinskas now traded free throws before Jankunas found himself back at the free throw line with 4.1 seconds left and his team up 102-100. This time, he made both, rendering Burstein's layup at the buzzer meaningless, because Zalgiris had its revenge at Nokia Arena, 104-102.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Eran Sela, Tel Aviv