Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv pulled away in the second half en route to a 91-76 home win over Armani Jeans Milano on Thursday night at Nokia Arena. The victory was Maccabi’s fourth straight since head coach Zvi Sherf took over and left the Israeli champs strong in the fight for a top seed in the Top 16 draw. Maccabi improved to 10-3 in Group B, the same as leader Lietuvos Rytas. Maccabi can only win the group if it beats Aris TT Bank on the road and L. Rytas loses at Cibona next week. Meanwhile Milano dropped to 3-10 and will finish its Euroleague season next week at home against Le Mans. Yotam Halperin scored 13 points in the third quarter as the hosts turned a 44-46 halftime deficit into a lead that continued to grow as the visitors tired. Halperin finished with a season-high 24 points on his 24th birthday to lead Maccabi. Alex Garcia added 14 points and standout defense, Terence Morris finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds, Nikola Vujcic scored 10 and dished 4 assists in 18 minutes in his return after nearly three months on the sidelines, Esteban Batista contributed 9 points and 10 rebounds and Vonteego Cummings dished a career-best 10 assists. Danilo Gallinari had a season-high 27 to pace Milano, Dusan Vukcevic added 16, Ansu Sesay 15 and Travis Watson had 9 points and 11 rebounds for Milano, which got only 6 points from its reserve players, not enough to win in a place like Tel Aviv.
Maccabi won the opening tip and went right inside to Marcus Fizer for the game’s first points. Gallinari got the visitors their first points with a three-pointer on the next possession. Halperin hit a long-range jumper and then a three-pointer to put the hosts up 7-3. Milano fired up from outside on nearly every trip downcourt and Sesay connected from downtown to keep Milano within 1. But a Morris three-pointer and a Fizer dunk on the break were followed by a bench technical on Milano, as Maccabi went ahead 14-6. Vukcevic single-handedly carried the visitors back with a three-point play and then a three-pointer. Soon Watson gave the visitors a 16-17 lead with a basket in the paint, but David Bluthenthal restored the Tel Aviv advantage with a triple. Gallinari corrected his own miss and a Sesay steal and slam gave Milano control. Casey Shaw added a basket on the offensive glass to put Milano up 6 before Will Bynum ended the period with triple that made it 23-27 after 10 minutes.
Gallinari kept Milano’s surge going with a free throw and then a basket-plus-foul at the start of the second period. When Vukcevic sliced through the paint for an easy hoop, Milano led 23-33 and Maccabi used a timeout to regroup. Sesay added to the visitors lead before Batista ended a three-plus minutes Maccabi drought with a pair of free throws. Vujcic made his return to Euroleague action after nearly three months on the sidelines and soon connected on 2 free throws, before adding his patented jump hook a minute later. However Gallinari threw down a dunk on the break as the visitors kept a 29-40 advantage. Maccabi captain Derrick Sharp and reserve Alex Garcia stepped things up on defense and scored 2 points each to get the hosts going and then a Vujcic slam cut the deficit to 3. After a Milano timeout, Vukcevic hit from outside, but Vujcic penetrated and dished to Batista to keep it close. Halperin free throws made it a 1-point game, Sesay answered with a triple, but Bynum fed Morris for a slam as Maccabi got within 44-46 at halftime.
A fierce Watson slam got Milano started strong after the break, but Halperin answered with a three-pointer and Bluthenthal added a triple to give Maccabi the lead for the first time since the opening period. Gallinari tied the game at 50-50 with 2 free throws and then restored Milano’s lead with a three. The lead continued to change hands with a Morris triple, followed by a Vukcevic basket and a Halperin hoop. Halperin added a layup after a Cummings steal to put Maccabi up 60-57. Halperin remained hot with a three-pointer, but Gallinari kept it close with 2 free throws as he reached a season-high 21 points. Halperin reached 13 third-quarter points with a pair of free throws, but Gallinaro continued their duel with a drive for a basket. Garcia drained a three-pointer to end the third quarter with the hosts holding a 71-65 lead.
The pace of the game dropped as the fourth quarter got underway, with more than two minutes passing before Vujcic found a cutting Garcia with a pretty pass. Watson kept Milano in touch with a slam, but Vujcic set up Garcia again, this time for a three-pointer to give Maccabi its biggest lead yet, 78-69. After a timeout, Garcia continued to shine with a penetration that resulted in Maccabi’s first double-digit lead. Watson drew a foul from Vujcic and made a free throw, but a fresh Lior Eliyahu scored inside for Maccabi. Shaw fouled out, leaving Milano exposed underneath. Sesay tried to change things, but Garcia made big plays at both ends to help seal the win. Any hope that Milano still had disappeared when Sesay fouled out while committing an unsportsmanlike foul on Eliyahu. Cummings and Batista padded the margin in the last two minutes as the fans celebrated another win.
Thursday, January 24, 2008