Maccabi Tel Aviv has won it all again!
Maccabi became the first team to win consecutive Euroleague titles since 1991 by downing Tau Ceramica 90-78 in the Euroleague Final in front of a sellout crowd of 13,500 in the Olympiyski Arena, Moscow on Sunday night. Maccabi keeps the Euroleague title for the first time since Split won three in a row from 1989 to 1991. Sarunas Jasikevicius led the winners in yet another unforgottable perfomance: 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, enough to be voted the MVP of the final. Maceo Baston added 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting, Nestoras Kommatos became a main factor with 13 points off the bench, Nikola Vujcic also had 13 and 7 assists while Anthony Parker added 12 for the back-to-back Euroleague champion. Luis Scola led Tau with 21 points and 9 rebounds, Jose Manuel Calderon added 16 while Arvydas Macijauskas and Travis Hansen each had 13. Maccabi had a strong first half in which Kommatos had all his 13 points to make his team led 50-39 with Baston and Jasikevicius also in double digits by that time. Scola, Calderon and Hansen led the comeback, helping Tau to cut its deficit to 62-60 late in the third. It all came down to the final 5 minutes in which Baston and above all Jasikevicius fueled a game-breaking 7-0 run in crunch time which sealed the outcome, sending no less than 7,000 yellow fans in the stand to celebrate their team's fourth top continental title! Maccabi lifted the Euroleague trophy in 1977 and 1981 before doing it again last season in Tel Aviv. The team also won a SuproLeague title in 2001, as well as reaching six other finals. Jasikevicius became the first player to win three consecutive Euroleague titles since five Split players did it between 1989 and 1991, while coach Pini Gershon won his third consecutive continental title with Maccabi.
Vujcic opened fire with a basket in the low post that Scola matched before Macijauskas slashed to score and add an additional free throw for a 2-5 Tau lead. Vujcic found Baston in the paint for an easy basket, as Maccabi's team defense looked for two-on-one situations all over the place. Jasikevicius drew a foul and made free throws to put Maccabi back in charge, 6-5. He added a steal on a double-team that led to Burstein nailing a big triple, as Tau had entered the foul bonus in less than 3 minutes. Maccabi used its passing game to find Jasikevicius wide open in the left wing, as he made one from downtown to force a Tau timeout at 12-5. Calderon had to go to the bench with 2 quick fouls, but Tau finally improved its defense. Travis Hansen drove for a power basket, but Vujcic answered with a dunk in traffic. Maccabi continued playing its usual transition game, and even when Scola scored twice in the paint, Parker took over with a fallaway jumper for a 16-11 Maccabi lead. Macijauskas was nowhere to be found so far, but Vujcic found Baston for a reverse layup that turned into a three-point play. Jasikevicius took his trademark short jumper in the paint and boosted Maccabi's lead to double digits, 21-11, after a 7-0 run. Kornel David tried to change things with a close basket, but Kommatos took over with a three-pointer, as Maccabi had the game right where it wanted it: 24-13 after 8 minutes. And when Baston flew for a big dunk, the lead was 26-15 as the quarter ended.
Tau opened the second with both Calderon and Pablo Prigioni on court, looking for a more controlled offense, as Baston had to go to the bench with 2 fouls. Kommatos replaced him and immediately found a put-back layup in the paint, while Parker fed Vujcic for a layup and a 14-point Maccabi lead, 30-16. Tau now had troubles to score without top bombers Macijauskas and Hansen on court, but Scola returned to the floor to improve the offense. Macijauskas had a steal that allowed Vidal to score, while Scola stepped up with a basket in the paint to make it 30-20. Kommatos stepped up big-time, however, with back-to-back triples, one from each corner, giving Maccabi its biggest lead so far, 36-20. Calderon tried to get Tau going with a power layup and Vidal added free throws, but Maccabi was unstoppable from downtown, as Burstein hit his team's sixth three in as many attempts. Maccabi was already in foul trouble, however, with Baston, Sharp, Jasikevicius and Parker each having 2 fouls and Burstein 3 after just 17 minutes. Macijauskas finally woke up with 4 free throws and Splitter added a put-back dunk to cut its deficit to single digits, 39-31, after a 0-7 run. Jasikevicius became Maccabi's go-to guy, as he nailed a three-pointer and fed Baston for a fastbreak layup, making it a 13-point game, 44-31. Calderon shot from downtown to keep Tau's hopes alive, but Baston answered with a crowd-pleasing dunk. Hansen nailed another three-pointer for Tau before Kommatos finished the half with free throws for a 50-39 Maccabi lead.
Hansen tried to bring Tau back to life with a mid-range jumper early in the third and Calderon added a big three to bring Tau within 52-44. Tau missed a chance to cut its deficit once Hansen and Scola turned the ball over in a two-on-one fastbreak opportunity. Meanwhile, Burstein beat the shot clock with a four-meter jumper for a 54-44 Maccabi lead. Scola made a jump hook in the paint, but Jasikevicius fed Vujcic for a power basket answer. Tau struggled to score for 2 minutes until Macijauskas made a free throw. Parker, who had struggled to score, found a layup in penetration that Calderon matched at the other end, while Hansen added a big three to make it a seven-point game, 59-52. Jasikevicius came to the rescue with 3 free throws, but Maccabi still had severe foul trouble. Burstein was resting with 4 fouls while Jasikevicius, Kommatos and Baston had 3 apiece, enough for Maccabi to call timeout. Hansen came up with a big three-pointer and Macijauskas added free throws to get Tau within striking distance, 62-59. Maccabi failed to get open looks now, while Splitter capped a 0-8 run with a free throw which brought Tau even closer, 62-60. Maccabi went scoreless for almost 3 minutes until Jasikevicius - who else? - kept his team alive with a big three to let Maccabi keep a 65-62 edge after 30 minutes.
Jasikevicius stayed on fire early in the fourth with a floating jumper which hit nothing but net, as Maccabi improved its defense with all its starters but Parker on the floor. Scola provided one of the highlights of the day with a wild unk in traffic, but the connection between Vujcic and Baston worked again for a 69-64 Maccabi edge. Vujcic scored around the basket, but Calderon used his jumping skills for a strong layup. Jasikevicius carried on reading the game well, finding an inspired Vujcic as often as possible. He drew a foul and made 1 of 2 free throws, but once again Jasikevicius took over with a close basket which forced a Tau timeout, 74-66, with 6 minutes to go. Parker returned to the floor and immediately made free throws to boost Maccabi's lead to double digits, 76-66, as Burstein was fouled out. Jasikevicius left no doubt about who would the MVP of the final, keeping full control of the game and making his team play with long possessions to avoid troubles already in the final 3 minutes. He slashed to keep Baston for a wild alleyoop dunk which capped a 7-0 run and sealed the outcome, 78-66, as Tau needed a miracle comeback now. Macijauskas tried to ignit one with 3 of 4 free throws, but 'Saras' and Parker were fully in charge, not allowing Maccabi to take any quick shot and tried to drew any many fouls as possible along the way. A close basket by Vujcic and free throws by Parker sealed the win. The Olympiysky Arena was covered in yellow, as Maccabi was once again the Euroleague winner!
Sunday, May 8, 2005