The grand basketball drama being played out in Group A had another classic act on Thursday as Maccabi Tel Aviv broke the 27-game, three-year home winning streak of Efes Pilsen with a 68-72 thriller in Istanbul. Maccabi took over the game with a 10-0 run after halftime and led by 14 entering the fourth quarter. But Efes would not let its streak, which lived through two arena moves, die so easily. The Turkish club mounted a desperate comeback that trimmed the deficit to one point in the final minute. There, however, Maccabi's top dog all game, center Nate Huffman, corralled key offensive rebounds after his team missed free throws to preserve the visitors victory. Maccabi soars to 5-2 on the road win and joins Benetton Treviso in first place while Efes falls to 4-3, tied in second place with Olympiakos. Huffman led all scorers with 17 points and Anthony Parker added 12 for Maccabi. Mehmet Okur led Efes with 16 and Saulius Stombergas added 15.
Efes got a good sign in the early going as its sharpshooter, Stombergas, who has run hot and cold all season, was the top scorer in the first quarter with six points. His three baskets allowed Efes to retain some control of the pace while its rebounders tried to deal with the Maccabi big men. They managed to hold Nate Huffman to a discreet 3 points and to keep the reigns on the Maccabi fastbreak. The Turkish team was able to pull in after 10 minutes ahead by a basket, 21-19.
On the first shot of the second quarter, a Derrick Sharpe three-pointer, Maccabi got its first lead 21-22. Efes, however, was able to take off from there on a 13-7 run led by Mehmet Okur and capped by Marcus Brown with the biggest lead of the game so far, 34-29. The only problem for the home team seemed to be three fouls on its main rebounder, Kaspars kambala. But with just a couple minutes left until the break, Anthony Parker felt the urgency of the situation and tallied 5 points to tie it while he and his Maccabi teammates shut down Efes the rest of the way. The two teams went into the lockerroom as even as when they started, 34-34. Okur was the top scorer thus far with 9 points, but the visitors had the momentum.
Maccabi indeed returned after halftime as though it held the secret to victory: two secrets really: defense and Nate Huffman. That defense held Efes scoreless for five whole minutes during which Huffman got loose inside inside on offense. The result was a 10-0 run and control of the tempo at 34-44 for Maccabi. By the time Brown scored to stop the bleeding, the damage was done for Efes. And Huffman was still scoring. He would finish the quarter with 12 points and Maccabi was rolling at 45-59.
Efes had its streak on the line and had a huge fan edge in its return to the 10,500-seat Abdi Ipekci Sports Hall where the streak had originally started. It wasn't going down easy, and Brown led a comeback that saw Maccabi's margin shrink by the minute. A 13-8 run over the first eight minutes put the scoreboard at 63-67 and set the stage for a photo finish. Omer Onan had a chance to tie in the final minute, but made only 1 of 2 free throws to make it 68-69. Tal Burstein then made just 1 of 2 for Maccabi, but the offensive rebound led to two more. Burstein missed both this time, but Huffman was on the glass and came down with the ball, leading to a final free throw that sealed it for the visitors.
Thursday, December 6, 2001