Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv topped Lottomatica Roma 79-72 on Thursday night at Nokia Arena to finish the Top 16 in style ahead of its Quarterfinal Playoffs matchup with defending champion CSKA Moscow. Inspired play from reserve big man Jamie Arnold led the hosts to their third win over Roma this season as the Israeli champs finished Group D with a 4-1 record. Roma dropped its fifth in a row to end its Euroleague campaign with a 1-5 mark in the Top 16. Arnold finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds, Yotam Halperin added 14 points and 4 assists, Nikola Vujcic scored 13 and Derrick Sharp 11. Roma, playing without its usual starting backcourt of Mire Chatman and David Hawkins, enjoyed a big night from Alex Righetti, who posted a Euroleague career-high 25 points including 5 three-pointers before fouling out with 2 minutes remaining. Dejan Bodiroga, who received plenty of applause from the Maccabi fans, finished with 14. The visitors kept the game close throughout the first half, leading 12-19 after 10 minutes and with Maccabi up just 36-35 at halftime. But Arnold got some help from Goran Jeretin during a 13-3 third-quarter run to put Maccabi comfortably in front. Righetti and Roma fought hard down the stretch, but Halperin stepped up with a clutch triple with 35 seconds left to seal the win.
Bodiroga got things started for Roma with a basket on the offensive glass, but Halperin, starting as part of a new-look backcourt for Maccabi, evened the score from the line. The hosts tried to force the tempo, but Lottomatica's effective zone and the visitors' calculated attack slowed down the game. Baskets by Jacopo Giachetti and then Righetti in transition put Roma up 2-6. Righetti went on to drill a pair of threes that increased the lead to 7. Maccabi's points all came from the line until Halperin hit a pull-up jumper after 7+ minutes to make it 10-14. Bodiroga split through Halperin and Sharp for a bucket and a foul. Arnold's mid-range jumper was matched by Luca Garri inside. Goran Jeretin coughed up the ball, but Roma failed to take advantage as the first period ended with the visitors up 12-19.
Roberto Gabini opened the second period with a bank shot and Daniele Cinciarini followed with a triple to put Roma up 12. Sharp answered from downtown and Arnold stepped up on defense by swatting Giachetti to get the fans going. Tal Burstein buried a jumper, but Gabini beat the shot clock on the other end to keep his team in control. Vujcic and Lior Eliyahu each added two from the line and Burstein fed Vujcic underneath to close the gap to 3. Righetti remained hot with a long-range jumper and a triple, but Sharp hit from beyond the arc on consecutive possessions to bring Maccabi within 29-31. After a timeout, Bodiroga drained a jumper over Eliyahu, but Halperin kept Maccabi in the picture. Vujcic made it a one-point game from the line, but Giachetti made a pair of free throws at the other end. Eliyahu again cut the cap to 1 and Halperin gave Maccabi its first lead with a fine penetration and that's how it remained at the break, with the hosts ahead 36-35.
Halperin fed Eliyahu for a slam to get Maccabi headed in the right direction at the start of the second half. Baskets by Sharp and Vujcic followed as the hosts took a 42-35 lead. Righetti remained the main offensive weapon for Roma and his fourth three-pointer of the nigh gave the visitors hope. However Halperin came right back with a three as Tel Avuv threatened to break the game open. Vujcic put Maccabi up 9 and then Jeretin stepped up, sandwiching a layup and a triple around a Righetti layup for a 54-42 lead. Jeretin added one more free throw and Arnold converted a circus shot in the paint to cap a 13-3 run and give Maccabi a 15-point advantage. Free throws by Alessandro Tonolli and Jon Stefansson for Roma and Arnold for Maccabi saw the third quarter draw to a close with the hosts ahead 60-47.
Ognjen Askrabic picked up a loose ball in the paint for an easy basket, but Arnold remained solid at the other end with a pair of baskets. Giachetti hit from downtown and after a Burstein jumper, Bodiroga came through with a three. Righetti's fifth triple of the night gave him a career-high in points and brought Roma within 66-58. After a Maccabi timeout, Roma forced a turnover and Righetti dropped in a layup in transition. Yaniv Green scored his first points of the game from the line and after a rare Righetti miss from outside, Jeretin's two free throws put Maccabi ahead by 10 again. More free throws, this time from Burstein, seemed to put the game out of reach with less than three minutes to play, prompting the Maccabi fans to chant Bodiroga in honor of the legendary Serbian, who may have played his last game at Nokia Arena. Roma made one last effort to get back and after a timeout, Stefansson earned a goal-tending call and Righetti scored off a steal. But Righetti picked up his fifth foul trying to stop Arnold at the other end and with him gone, Roma was in trouble. Still Stefansson found a way to cut the gap to 4, but Halperin hit a big triple with 35 seconds left to seal the win.
Thursday, March 22, 2007