The chance of completing its dynasty with another title belongs to Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv after it defeated Olympiacos 77-73 in a thriller on Thursday to win their best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoff series and advance to the Final Four in Prague, April 28 to 30. Maccabi will have the opportunity to become the first team in a generation to win three straight titles. Free throws by Derrick Sharp and Nikola Vujcic allowed Maccabi to escape for good even though Olympiacos had retained full options of winning until the final minute, but a missed triple by Manolis Papamakarios with a 76-73 score and 10 seconds to go was fatal for the Reds. Willie Solomon led Maccabi with 18 points, Anthony Parker added 13, and three more players added 10 points each: Derrick Sharp, Kirk Penney and Vujcic, who had 8 of his down the stretch. For Olympiacos, Tyus Edney led the way with 14 points, Sofoklis Schortsanitis added 13, Nikos Hatzis 12 and Quincy Lewis 11. In Prague, Maccabi will meat Tau Ceramica in the first semifinal of the Final Four, a rematch of their title game last season.
Olympiacos started strong, winning the opening tip and getting a jumper from Quincy Lewis. It took Maccabi over a minute to score on Derrick Sharp's free throws. Edney answered with a triple from the top of the key, but Maceo Baston got those back with three points the hard way, scoring over Lewis and drawing the former-Maccabi shooter's second foul. Parker put Maccabi up for the first time with a three-pointer, but Edney copied him as the three-point ping pong continued. Edney's third triple followed by Panagiotis Vasilopoulos's first saw the Reds start to pull away and a pair of free throws and a running jumper from Papamakarios made it 11-18. Solomon almost single-handedly kept Maccabi close, first finding Jamie Arnold inside for a basket, then pulling up for a foul-line jumper and then stealing and making free throws to bring Maccabi within 17-18. Another Maccabi steal then sent Parker downcourt to slam, and when Arnold corrected Tal Burstein's miss with a slam, the score was 21-18 and Olympiacos needed a timeout. Arnold came back with a baby hook to cap a 12-0 run that put the hosts up 23-18. That's when Schortsanitis came of the Reds bench to make immediate impact, drawing two fouls and scoring on 3 straight possessions to help tie the score at 24. But he also committed 2 quick fouls and was soon back on the bench. With time running out, Nikos Barlos fouled Solomon, whose free throws gave Maccabi a 26-24 lead at the end of the first.
Baston picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second quarter, leaving Maccabi coach Pini Gershon to lean heavily on Arnold. Zizic tied the score with a hook while Vujcic missed free throws for the hosts. Kirk Penney made a surprisingly early entrance for Parker, and made his presence known immediately, drilling a triple on his first possession. Then, after another Solomon drive, Penney spotted Solomon for a triple that made it 34-27. Maccabi cooled off a bit after that, but Edney and Lewis struggled from outside and failed to take advantage. Penney kept up his strong play, hitting a jumper at the three-point line and then hitting free throws that had Maccabi up 39-31 with 3:30 left to halftime. The Reds never flagged, however, as Nikos Hatzis hit a long jumper and then Schortsanitis scored over Vujcic inside to make it 39-35. Maccabi called timeout and soon saw Sharon Shason stole the ball from Edney and darted downcourt for a finger roll. Hatzis remained hot with a triple, but Solomon answered with a three of his own. Hatzis cut the gap to 44-40 from the line, and after Solomon took an ill-advised early shot, Olympiacos found Renaldas Seibutas for a layup to make it 44-42 at halftime.
Lewis had a chance to tie the game on the first play, but made only one of two free throws. Maccabi started to pull away with a Derrick Sharp bucket followed by Vujcic's score inside off of his own miss. When Zizic was coled for three seconds - Olympiacos's third turnover in less than three minutes - it allowed a Solomon triple to put the host up 51-43. Christos Harissis first basket kept the Reds in the picture, but a Baston basket and a one-hander from Parker put Maccabi ahead by 10 for the first time. Olympiacos coach Jonas Kazlauskas turned to Schortsanitis, who managed to disrupt the Maccabi plan on both ends of the court. Hatzis made one from downtown, Harissis added a reverse layup and Seibutas capped a 1-7 spurt that put the visitors right back in the game. Hatzis followed a missed Parker jumper with a pair from the line to make it 56-54. Vujcic lobbed a pass to a wide open Arnold for a score, but Edney's first points of the half kept it tight. Parker scored from the wing. Vujcic swatted away a Schortsanitis shot, but Arnold lost the rebound. Seibutas drove and drew a foul from Penney, made the free throws and cut the gap to 2 points. Parker's pull-up jumper at the buzzer kept Maccabi up 62-58 after 30 minutes.
Baston blocked a Vasilopoulos jumper to start the final quarter, but seemed to hurt his leg while driving into Schortsanitis on the next play and came out. Solomon sacrificed his body to stop Schortsanitis in the paint, but the big man made 2 free throws anyway. The nerves seemed to hit both teams as shots continued to bang out. Penney's second three-pointer gave him double figures in points for the first time since opening night of the season, and Maccabi a 5-point lead, but the Reds came back. A Lewis triple was followed by a Penney turnover, which Harissis turned into a fast break slam for Schortsanitis, tying the score 65-65 with 6 minutes to play. Parker's pull-up jumper with 4:35 remaining ended a three-and-a-half minute drought for Maccabi, but Lewis drilled a three on the next play to give Olympiacos a 67-68 lead. Vujcic scored in a crowd to put Maccabi back on top, but this time Harissis silended the crowd with a triple that put Olympiacos up 69-71. Maccabi went to Vujcic, who drew a foul and made both to tie 71-71 with 3:17 left. After Vasilopoulos missed a triple, Vujcic drew another foul, making 1 of 2 to get the lead back. The Reds milked the clock on the next possession, but Solomon blocked Lewis's attempted three as the 24-second buzzer sounded. Vujcic added 2 more free throws to the lead with 2:10 remaining. Seibutas's jumped bounced out with 1:45 left, while Arnold missed 2 free throws, and then Edney hit only 1 of his 2 chances, making it 74-72 with 1:08 on the clock. When Solomon missed, the Reds went to Schortsanitis, who was fouled, but only made 1 of 2 free throws with 24.8 seconds to play. So after Olympiacos fouled Solomon, and he made both, it was 76-73 and Olympiacos needed a triple to tie. Amazingly, they got a wide-open one when Edney drove and kicked out to Papamakarios. But with 10 seconds left, he hit the front of the rim, Vujcic rebounded and was fouled, then made 1 of 2 to sentence the outcome. Maccabi fans were already thinking about a three-peat in Prague.
Thursday, April 13, 2006