Maccabi Tel Aviv clinched first place in Group B the hard way on Thursday, coming from behind to win at home 95-82 and knock Union Olimpija from the Top 16 race. Maccabi improved to 10-3 and will now be a first-level seed in the Top 16 draw, thus avoiding the possibility of playing against undefeated Group C leader CSKA and Group A powers Climamio and Efes Pilsen. Olimpija fell to 5-9. The best it can do is tie for sixth place with Scavolini next week, but considering its two losses to that team, will miss the second round of a European competition for the first time in 10 years. It won't be for lack of effort. Olimpija led into the middle of the third quarter, but could not withstand the waves of talent and experience Maccabi applied, particularly in a decisive 16-4 fourth-quarter run. Ahtnony Parker led five Maccabi scorers in double figures with 22 points. Maceo Baston added 16, Deon Thomas and Sarunas Jasikevicius 15, while Derrick Sharpe had 14. Maccabi's bench outscored Olimpija's 42-11. The visitors were led by Saso Ozbolt, who made 6 three-pointers among his 20 points. Vladimer Boisa added 18, Dusan Bocevski 14 and Marijan Mance 11 for Olimpija.
Maccabi got off to a rare slow start at home as Olimpija jumped ahead 0-4 lead thanks to some good ball movement. Maccabi soon pack the middle defensively to stop Olimpija's pick-and-roll, but the visitors just pulled out another weapon: three-pointers. Ozbolt made back-to-back triples from the same spot and then Bocevski drilled another as Olimpija built a 9-20 lead to silence the home crowd. Maccabi called timeout and replaced three starters to shake things up. It worked temporarily as Derrick Sharp and Parker each scored to awaken the fans, but Marijan Mance made his team's fifth three-pointer of the quarter to bring the momentum back Olimpija's way, and the visitors held on for a 19-26 lead after 10 minutes.
Olimpija's passing continued to make Maccabi's defense dizzy in the second quarter, although Parker alone had that same effect on every Olimpija player that tried to guard him. Parker scored on three straight trips down the court, keeping pace with Bocevski and Vladimer Boisa. Olimpija the fell short on a pair of possessions, allowing Maco Baston to pull Maccabi back to within 4 points, but Boisa took over with a pair of jumpers to restore a 32-40 lead for the visitors. Sharp was fouled shooting a triple and made all 3 free throws and then a baseline drive to get Maccabi within 3 points, 37-40, but the hosts couldn't finish the comeback. After a wild minute of sloppy passing and missed shots, Baston threw down a two-handed jam, but Ozbolt made his fifth three-pointer to assure Olimpija a 41-43 lead at the half.
Maccabi came out hungrier in the second half as Deon Thomas threw an alley-oop to Baston on the very first play to tie the score. But the hosts could not shake Olimpija that easily. Dragisa Drobnjak scored his first points to keep Olimpija on top and even the red-hot Thomas couldn't put Maccabi ahead. But after another Ozbolt bomb, his sixth from downtown, Olimpija suddenly went cold. Parker assisted on a Baston basket inside and one minute later stole for a coast-to-coast to layup that gave Maccabi its first lead, 51-50. Jasikevicius added a three-point play on a fast break before Drobnjak ended Olimpija's drought to make it 54-53. Macabi pulled ahead after Bocevski was called for an unsportsmanlike foul inside on Thomas. Soon, Jasikevicius popped a triple to make it 61-54. After an Olimpija timeout, Boisa pulled his team back to within 65-60 after 30 minutes.
To start the final quarter, Olimpija showed it was ready to keep fighting as it moved within a point of Maccabi on a basket by Boisa and a triple by Andres Rodriguez, his first points. But Maccabi seemed to have a much more inspired game in the final quarter. Baston got the crowd involved when he corrected a missed three-pointer with a two-handed slam. Then Jasikevicius seemed to put the game away with a triple midway through the quarter that made it 77-68. Although Bocevski answered on the other side, Maccabi's newfound defensive intensity made creating points far more difficult than it had been for Olimpija. Maccabi went up by 11 when Jasikevicius lobbed a no-look fast break pass to Sharp. Olimpija began to shoot and miss wildly as the final 3 minutes ticked away. Parker got a standing ovation as he left, not to return until the Top 16, which Olimpija would now be missing.
Thursday, February 3, 2005