Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv completed one of the greatest comebacks in Final Four history to defeat Montepaschi Siena 85-92 and advance to the Euroleague Basketball title game for the fourth time in five seasons on Friday at the Community of Madrid Sports Palace in the Spanish Capital. Maccabi trailed by as many as 18 in the second period, but stormed back with a 0-13 charge bridging the third and fourth periods to take the lead. Spirited play from Alex Garcia and team captain Derrick Sharp, who both scored season-highs off the bench, led an effort of 70 bench points. Montepaschi had only 25 points from its bench. Maccabi will face the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between CSKA Moscow and Tau Ceramica in Sunday’s final. The Israeli champs defeated Tau in the 2005 final and lost to CSKA in the 2006 final. Garcia paced Maccabi with 19 points, Sharp scored 17, Will Bynum finished with 13 points and 7 assists, Terence Morris had 13 points and 7 rebounds and David Bluthenthal added 11, including the go-ahead three-pointer early in the fourth quarter. Terrell McIntyre had a game-high 26 points and 5 assists in defeat. Romain Sato posted 17 points and 11 boards for Montepaschi, Ksistof Lavrinovic also scored 17 and Bootsy Thornton 10.
Montepaschi won the opening tip and got on the board first when Ben Eze corrected a Sato miss. The Montepaschi defense stifled Maccabi, forcing the Israeli champs into tough shots. At the other end, McIntyre stepped up, drilling a pair of three-pointers on back-to-back possession to make it 8-0. Morris finally got Maccabi on the scoreboard with a finger roll after three-and-a-quarter minutes of action. Maccabi’s defense firmed up and kept Montepaschi scoreless for several minutes, but the yellow-and-blue had a tough time scoring at the other end. Even when Bynum penetrated for a Maccabi basket, Thornton punished him seconds later with a score in transition. Then Thornton fed an open Shaun Stonerook for a triple that put Montepaschi up 13-4. A Lavrinovic free throw extended the lead to double digits and McIntyre soon made it 18-6 from the line. The Italian champs had an answer for every Maccabi basket and after Morris scored, Sato made it 20-8 after 10 minutes.
Lior Eliyahu came off the bench and showed some spirit with a slam, but Maccabi head coach was soon slapped with a technical foul and McIntyre scored free throws and soon added a triple that pushed his team’s advantage to 15. Eliyahu was having an impact, especially when Montepaschi tired Sato at power forward, but Maccabi couldn’t Lavrinovic at the other end either. And when Hector Romero stepped in and Sato slid back to small forward, he made some noise with an offensive board and basket that made it 31-14. Vlado Ilievski drilled a three as the lead hit 18. Eliyahu seemed to be Maccabi’s only effective weapon cutting the gap to 36-22. Sharp came in and fired in a triple and then Morris buried another as the lead closed to 10. Ilievski answered with a long jumper, but Yotam Halperin continued the Maccabi momentum and made it 40-31. McIntyre would have none of that though and his fourth three-pointer of the half silenced the Maccabi fans. Morris would have one more try for Maccabi, but Lavrinovic made it 45-33 by halftime.
Garcia zipped through the Montepaschi defense to open the second half as Maccabi went with a rarely seen lineup that included only two starters. McIntyre – with a dish to Thornton and then his fifth three – put Siena up by 15. Morris tried to will Maccabi back, but it was to no avail as the Montepaschi backcourt was in total control. A Sharp three brought the Maccabi fans back to life, however a Sato triple ignited the Montepaschi following. Another bomb from Sharp – his second in 60 seconds – made it 57-49 and caused the Montepaschi bench to react with an urgent timeout. The timeout seemed to break Maccabi’s momentum, but Montepaschi had trouble scoring as well. A Bluthenthal triple got Maccabi within 6 with a minute-and-a-half to go in the period. Sato got Montepaschi back to 10 from the line, but Vujcic scored his first basket of the night and then a technical foul on Lavrinovic for flopping, led to 2 Sharp free throws and a Garcia triple as Maccabi stormed back to make it 64-61 after three periods.
Maccabi looked even more fired up as the fourth period began and Bluthenthal tied the score for the first time from downtown. Then Bynum pulled up for a three that capped a 0-13 charge and gave Maccabi its first lead of the night, 64-67. Lavrinovic ended a five-minute scoring drought for Montepaschi, but another Bluthenthal three kept Maccabi rolling. Lavrinovic again fought his way to a basket that made it 68-70 only to see Halperin hit a clutch three. Montepaschi quickly found its way and threes from McIntyre and Thornton cut the gap to 1. Sato missed inside and Garcia punished him with a triple that put Maccabi up 74-78. Lavrinovic beat the shot clock and on the next possession sank 2 free throws to tie the score as the two-minute mark approached and the drama built. An acrobatic basket-plus-foul from Bynum and an alley-oop to Morris put Maccabi up 5, while on the other end, Montepaschi struggled to find or make the shots it so calmly sank in the first half. Garcia gave Maccabi it’s biggest lead, 78-85, from the line and after another miss and Lavrinovic’s fifth foul, Garcia stretched it to 9 with a minute to go. McIntyre answered with 2 free throws, but Bynum did the same as Maccabi iced the game from the line to the delight of its strong traveling contingent of fans.
Friday, May 2, 2008