CSKA Moscow stepped up and won the biggest game of its season on Thursday by outlasting mighty Maccabi Tel Aviv for a thrilling 81-77 home victory in super-hot Group H. The win ties CSKA (3-1) for first place with Tau Ceramica of Spain, who visits Moscow for the next game on April 11. Maccabi falls to 2-2 and will have to win its remaining two games and get help to advance to the Final Four. CSKA had Maccabi on its heels all night Thursday, but after the visitors surged ahead early in the fourth quarter, Gordan Giricek scored 7 straight points to put CSKA in the lead for good. Giricek led all scorers with 23 points. Ruben Wokowyski added 19, Mirsad Turkcan 18 and Curtis McCants 15, those four players totalling all but 6 of CSKA's points. For Maccabi, Nate Huffman scored 17 points, Arriel McDonald 16 and Anthony Parker 13, but deficits in rebounds and turnovers hurt the visitors. The final rebound of the game hurt most, as Zakhar Pachoutine missed 2 free throws for CSKA with seconds left to play, but Wolkowyski got the offensive rebound and made two himself to secure the win.
CSKA fans were no doubt delighted to see Turkcan starting despite a recent injury, but he had little impact in the first quarter. Giricek got going quickly with two baskets for a 6-2 CSKA start, but Tal Burstein hit the game's first three-pointer to pull Maccabi to 6-5. After a defensive stretch, Turkcan became the last CSKA starter to score as the lead hit 12-8, then Ruben Wolkowyski scored four straight for a 15-11 lead. But in the next minute, Huffman had a three-point play and McDonald his first basket and a pair of free throws as the visitors surged ahead for the first time, 15-18. Then came Besok's turn for the visitors, as the backup center hit the floor and scored 8 consecutive points to give Maccabi the biggest lead of the game thus far, 18-26. Maccabi had shut down Giricek after his early pair of baskets, but CSKA was having trouble doing the same against Maccabi's frontcourt. Two more free throws by Wolkowyski, who was up to 9 points now, allowed CSKA to reach the end of 10 minutes down by only 20-26.
If Turkcan was quiet before, his game came alive to start the second quarter, as he and Curtis McCants scored 5 quick points each in a 12-7 CSKA run that cut the deficit to 32-33. After a Maccabi timeout, McCants made a free throw and Wolkowyski the go-ahead basket for a 35-33 lead. But Huffman was back on the floor now, too, and he answered with a three-point play of his own to put the visitors back in the lead, 35-36, and just as importantly draw Wolkowyski's third foul. Turkcan answered back for another lead change, Huffman for one more. It was all heavyweight punching inside until McCants stepped up and scored four in a row to give CSKA a 41-38 edge with 3:30 left in the half. Giricek now hit his first shot since the first couple minutes and Alexandre Petrenko his first of the game. The hosts were up 45-38 and Maccabi had not scored in more than 4 minutes. But a good sign for the visitors came in the closing seconds, when Anthony Parker hit just his second basket of the game to cut the lead to 45-40 at the half. Wolkowyski had 11 points to lead CSKA, Turkcan and McCants 10 each, the same as Huffman, the top scorer thus far on Maccabi.
Parker showed he was back with 5 points on two shots to open the third quarter, but those were just enough to match McCants' own three and a Giricek jumper. Now the only star still quiet, McDonald, joined the offense for Maccabi, and with his back-to-back baskets, the scoreboard got suddenly close again at 54-53. Giricek made sure of his next two attempts, however, putting CSKA back up by the 5 points it held at the half, 58-53, and forcing a Maccabi timeout halfway through the quarter. Maccabi couldn't have expected what came next, a Turkcan three-pointer leading to CSKA's biggest lead yet, 63-55, with just 2:15 left in the quarter. Maccabi made the most of that time, however, as Parker hit a free throw, Derrick Sharp a basket plus foul shot and Huffman two points inside for a 0-6 run that made it a whole new ballgame, 63-61, after 30 minutes.
Maccabi took that momentum into the final quarter to seize a 63-64 lead on a McDonald three-pointer that extended the run to 0-9. Giricek finally stepped up to hit a shot against the Maccabi zone that had held CSKA without scoring for almost 4 minutes. Now, he added two free throws for a 67-64 edge with 7:26 left to play. Huffman ended Maccabi's two-minute drought with a free throw, but Giricek at the other end nailed a huge three-pointer for a 70-65 CSKA lead. Now it was Sharp's turn to step up for Maccabi, with another basket plus free throw, pulling the deficit down to 70-68. Now, two Turkcan free throws were answered by Gur Shelef with a three-pointer, and the CSKA lead was down to 72-71 with 4 minutes left. Wolkowyski surfaced for his first basket in awhile and Giricek followed with two free throws to return the lead to 5 points, 76-71. But just as quickly, Maccabi's stars hit back, Huffman with the first basket, and after a timeout, McDonald with another, to pull within 76-75 with 2:32 remaining. Turkcan hit 1 of 2 free throws to extend the lead to 77-75. A pair of misses followed, by Shelef and Turkcan, but Wolkowysky rebounded the latter one with 35 seconds left and got the ball to Giricek, who did not miss at all. CSKA was ahead 79-75 and Maccabi called timeout with 25 seconds on the clock. With 11 seconds left, Huffman was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 79-76. Maccabi fouled Zakhar Pachoutine, who missed both his attempts in the closing seconds, but Wolkowyski rebounded the miss, got to the line and made the insurance free throws for an 81-77 victory.
Thursday, March 28, 2002