Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv shot to the top Group F with a 94-75 win over Real Madrid on Thursday night at Nokia Arena. The Israeli champs matched the Spanish champs record at 2-1 at the midway point in the Top 16. With some of the best players in Maccabi history on hand after being honored in a pre-game celebration of 50 Years of European Club Basketball, Maccabi played one of its best games of the season, getting big numbers from its trio of big men, All-Euroleague center Nikola Vujcic, Terence Morris and Esteban Batista. Vujcic, among the Maccabi legends honored before tip-off, made his return from an injury layoff with 14 points and 5 assists in 18 minutes; Morris, who received his Euroleague Basketball January MVP award from Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu at halftime, posted 16 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocked shots; and Top 16, Week 2 MVP Esteban Batista continued his strong form with 14 points and 6 fouls drawn. Maccabi pulled away as Vujcic found his comfort zone in the second period, dishing to Will Bynum and Omri Casspi, while Bynum added a couple of three-pointers as the hosts took a 50-37 halftime lead. Madrid never got closer than 11 after that, as Maccabi continued to pass well (26 assists), shoot well (67.4% two-pointers, 46.7% three-pointers) and outrebound Madrid 36-25 to wrap up the victory. Bynum led all scorers with 22 points and 5 assists and Casspi added 10. Felipe Reyes led Madrid with 16 points and 10 rebounds, Louis Bullock scored 15, Axel Hervelle 13 and Kerem Tunceri finished with 11 points and 7 assists.
Maccabi won the opening tip and Vonteego Cummings went right inside, setting up Batista, who was fouled and then scored the game’s first points from the line. But Madrid immediately went on top when Tunceri drilled a three-pointer. Free throws by Reyes and an Hervelle slam in transition saw the visitors go up 2-7. Maccabi came back with a 9-0 charge of its own capped by a triple and layup by Morris. Reyes scored from close range, but Morris struck again, this time with a tip-in as Maccabi started to roll. Bullock put an end to that with a layup in transition and then a Blagota Sekulic slam tied it at 13-13. Vujcic, one of the Maccabi greats honored before the game, checked in to a round applause, but it was Madrid that capitalized, soon taking a narrow lead an a Bullock drive. But Bullock was soon whistled for his second foul and took a seat on the bench. Vujcic took up his spot in the paint and fed a cutting Bynum. The lead continued to flip flop with Hervelle drilling a triple, Alex Garcia scoring from the line. Lazaros Papadopoulos and Vujcic traded baskets on each other as the period expired with the hosts up 25-24.
Bynum drilled a triple to start the second period and when Garcia spotted Vujcic open underneath to make it 30-24. Madrid got going through Alex Mumbru, but Bynum brought the sell-out crowd to its feet with another three-pointer and then Vujcic fed a cutting Casspi for a slam as the noise level went off the charts, 35-26. Hervelle scored inside but Garcia and Lior Eliyahu baskets in transition ensured the momentum remained with the hosts, who took their first double-digit lead. A Madrid timeout didn’t cool Maccabi off as Vujcic grabbed a rebound and passed downcourt to Bynum to make it 41-28. But then Vujcic picked up his third foul and took a seat on the bench. Bullock hit from the line and so did Mumbru, but before Madrid could make a run, Maccabi head coach Zvika Sherf called a time out and before long a Batista slam made it 46-31. Tunceri answered from downtown and after Eliyahu scored from the charity stripe, Bullock also hit from long range, but Casspi caped the half with a drive that made it 50-37.
Reyes scored to open the second half, but Casspi soon matched him. It took the players a few minutes to regain the exciting pace of the first half and it was Maccabi that found its legs first as Batista and Bynum increased the lead to 17. Mumbru stepped up with a three-pointer and Reyes answered a Bynum drive with a bucket, but the Maccabi attack continued generating points almost at will. Bullock continued to battle and hit from outside, but he had little help and when Bynum answered with a triple of his own, the hosts were up 65-48. Yotam Halperin stretched it even further with a three, but Hervelle scored from the line, However a Vujcic score ended the third period as Maccabi took it biggest lead, 70-50.
Papadopoulos opened the last 10 minutes with a hook shot and Charles Smith started to heat up with a chippie and a triple as Madrid showed signs of a comeback. But a high-flying Morris tip-in, a Vujcic block on Smith and a Garcia bucket restored the 20-point margin. Tunceri hit a three-pointer, but Vujcic made sure Maccabi and its fans would stay hot with a highlight film alley-oop pass for a one-handed Morris slam, leading to another Madrid timeout. Reyes would try to answer with a three-point play, but Maccabi had none of it Morris fed Vujcic inside. With three-and-a-half minutes remaining, Vujcic came off to a standing ovation. Madrid tried to press as the score difference could still come back to play a factor in the group and Hervelle cut the difference to 15 from the line and Bullock got it even lower before Morris drilled a three and then Batista threw down a two-handed slam to put Maccabi up 19. Papadopoulos scored on the offensive glass, but Bynum had the last laugh as Maccabi wrapped up a big win.
Thursday, February 28, 2008