Maccabi Elite held off a late Cibona Zagreb charge to register an 80-74 victory on Thursday night at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. Maccabi led by 23 late in the third period before Tre Kelley led a furious late charge and Cibona closed the gap to 3 with 36 seconds to go. But Marcus Fizer converted a dunk and a free throw15.6 seconds remaining to ensure Maccabi’s sixth straight home win. The Israeli champs improved to 3-2 and travel to Armani Jeans Milano next week. Cibona fell to 2-3 before hosting Le Mans in Week 6. Maccabi used its defense and held Cibona to 7 second-period points for a 40-29 halftime lead. In the third period, Derrick Sharp and Lior Eliyahu recorded steals and break-away baskets on back-to-back plays to break Cibona’s spirits on the way to a 63-40 advantage. The game looked over before Kelley ignited a late charge, but the visitors ran out of steam and Maccabi secured the win. Eliyahu and Sharp led Maccabi with 12 points apiece and Fizer had 11 for Maccabi. Chris Warren paced Cibona with 19, Keley scored a season-high 16 and Sam Hoskin posted 15 points and 9 rebounds.
Warren scored the first points of the game for Cibona, but Maccabi, playing without a true center in its starting lineup, looked to establish Eliyahu and Marcus Fizer inside, and both produced early baskets. Rookie Omri Casspi stepped up, first drilling a three and then dishing to Eliyahu as Maccabi took control. An Eliyahu steal and layup gave the hosts an 11-5 lead. Warren countered with a three from the corner, but a Vonteego Cummings jumper kept the momentum with the hosts. However the tide turned quickly, with Vedran Vukusic scoring twice as Cibona grabbed a narrow lead. Will Bynum came in and scored off a Cummings steal, but Hoskin matched him. Cummings put the hosts up 4 with a layup and a jumper, but a Warren jumper and Damir Mulaomerovic’s coast-to-coast layup in the final seconds gave the visitors a 21-22 lead after 10 minutes.
Vukusic started the second period with a basket, but Alex Garcia tied the score with a three. Esteban Batista then went to work with a steal on one end and a bucket in the paint on the other. While Cibona was misfiring time after time, Batista became the focal point of the Maccabi attack, drawing fouls, though his free-throw woes prevented the hosts from padding the lead much. Vukusic finally scored inside to end a four-minute drought, but Garcia answered with a basket-plus-foul for a 32-26 lead. David Bluthenthal came in fresh from the bench and delivered a three. Warren tried to get Cibona going, but another Bluthenthal triple and a short jumper by Sharp extended the hosts lead to 40-29 by halftime.
Maccabi started the second half with a long offense that ended in a Fizer basket. Warren came back with 2 from the line and Marin Rozic drew a foul and made a pair of free throws – the first points scored by a Cibona reserve all evening. Sharp’s jumper kept Maccabi from losing its edge and then Yotam Halperin fed Eliyahu for a two-handed fast-break slam to restore the lead to 13. Larry Ayuso netted a triple only to see a red-hot Sharp match it. The Maccabi captain then recorded a steal and a layup and Eliyahu followed with a steal and a slam seconds later as the lead reached 53-36 to the delight of the crowd. Cibona head coach Josip Vrankovic took a timeout after which Hoskin made a free throw and had the second one taken away for a time violation. Batista increased the Maccabi lead by 2 more and when Halperin drilled a three, the hosts led by 20. Hoskin scored inside only to see Sharp drill a three and Halperin come up with a steal and a layup that made it 63-40. Hoskin continued to fight for Cibona and Kelley’s three-point play helped, but a triple by Garcia kept the hosts firmly in control. Kelley converted a basket-plus-foul in the last seconds to end the third period with Maccabi ahead 68-51.
By the fourth quarter, the Maccabi fans were doing the wave as Batista dug his way into the paint for a basket. Vukusic and Kelley tried to start a desperate rally and Luksa Andric’s slam brought the visitors within 15. Kelley and Rozic then drilled threes and Warren converted Kelley’s missed layup to cut the gap to 74-65, suddenly gaining Maccabi’s full attention. Tel Aviv head coach Oded Kattash took a timeout, but the hosts simply couldn’t find the rim. Warren brought Cibona even closer, but the visitors seemed to run out of steam with about 3:30 left. Maccabi also failed to score, with Fizer missing twice from the line. But Kelley came through with a clutch pull-up triple at the two-minute mark to cut the gap to 74-70. This time Fizer ended the Maccabi drought with 2 free throws and Bluthenthal added another, but Hoskin made a layup and Kelley dropped in an acrobatic layup to get Cibona within 3 with 36 seconds to go. Bynum tried to drain the clock and then Halperin fed Fizer for a slam and a foul with 15.6 seconds remaining that about wrapped it up. Bynum blocked Kelley’s last chance three allowing Maccabi to celebrate the win.
Thursday, November 22, 2007