Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv's hopes for a third consecutive Euroleague title took a key step forward with an 87-78 home win against Olympiacos on Tuesday in the first game of their best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoffs series. Maccabi saw Olympiacos rally for a pair of fourth-quarter ties before rolling on a 13-4 finishing run to take the victory. The series moves now to Athens on Thursday, where if Maccabi wins, it will advance to the Final Four in Prague. Nikola Vujcic led five double-figure scorers for Maccabi with 23 points on 9-for-12 two-point shooting. He also had 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks. Maceo Baston followed him with 15 points, while Will Solomon had 12, Tal Burstein 11 and Anthony Parker 10. Olympiacos was paced by Tyus Edney with 20 points, Renaldus Seibutis and Panagiotis Vasilopoulos with 13 each, and Sofoklis Schortsanitis with 10, including both baskets that tied the game in the fourth quarter, the least time at 74-74. Vujcic and Baston combined on the next 6 points, however, and Maccabi was on its way to the victory.
Maccabi won the opening tip and scored first when Manolis Papamakarios fouled Derrick Sharp on a three-point attempt less than a minute into the action. The Maccabi captain made all 3 free throws and Maccabi increased its lead with another by Vujcic. After another Olympiacos miss, crisp Maccabi passing worked the ball to a wide-open Vujcic, and when his triple attempt missed, was there for to put back offensive rebound and a bonus foul shot for a 7-0 start. Quincy Lewis found his stroke from downtown to get the Reds on the board, while visiting coach Jonas Kazlauskas called his first sub, big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who put back a miss by Edney. Just the same, Maccabi's Will Solomon fed Vujcic for layups on consecutive possessions and then spotted Tal Burstein for a triple as the hosts soared ahead 14-8. Edney drove and scored over the long outstretched arm of Baston, and when Burstein drilled a second triple, this time was answered with the same shot by Panagiotis Vasilopoulos of Olympiacos. Almost as quickly as he arrived, Schortsanitis sat with his second foul, but Andrija Zizic made his presence felt by drawing fouls on Solomon and Parker and making the free throws to bring the Reds within 27-23 after 10 minutes.
Parker and Vujcic pushed the lead back up to 6 points early in the second quarter, but that was before Edney took over. The Olympiacos playmaker combined a steal-and-layup with a three-pointer, setting the stage for Vasilopoulos to hit a triple of his own that brought the visitors within 38-37. Maccabi didn't waiver, however, and after a another Schortsanitis came back and left again with a quick third foul, the home team reeled off 9 unanswered points to pull away. Taking advantage off offensive fouls by Zizic and Renaldas Seibutis, Maccabi got points from Vujcic, Sharon Shason and Solomon to build a 47-37 lead. After an Olympiacos timeout, Seibutis scored on the offensive glass and Vasilopoulos threw down a slam, but Parker drove through the heart of the visitors' defense to keep Maccabi comfortably ahead, 51-42 at halftime.
Zizic opened the second-half scoring with a short jumper, but on the next play committed an offensive foul, his third. Bursten's third three-pointer put Maccabi up 10 points, 54-44, before Schortsanitis drew Baston's fourth foul and made both free throws. On the next play, however, Schortsanitis got his fourth foul on offense and went back to the bench. Arnold took a pass from Burstein and dunked before Vujcic picked up a loose ball as the 24-second clock was running down and drilled a long triple that Maccabi ahead 61-48. After Parker stretched Maccabi's lead with free throws, Vasilopoulos gave the Reds hope with a triple, but Sharp fired back from the arc, too, keeping the momentum with Maccabi. Playing slower now, the Reds got a layup from Edney and free throws from Seibutis to cut the gap to 65-55. Soon, a Lewis layup and another Seibutis free throw had Olympiacos within 65-50, but Solomon nailed a three-pointer to end Maccabi's drought. When Sharon Shason added free throws, Maccabi escaped the third quarter ahead by 70-62.
Olympiacos failed to take advantage of a Maccabi turnover to start the final quarter, and Vujcic made the visitors pay, putting back an offensive rebound to restore a double-figure lead. Olympiacos was far from done, however. Edney hit a short jumper before Christos Harissis scored, stole and assisted a dunk by Lewis that made it 72-68 with 7 minutes left. Schortsanitis then joined the comeback by hitting free throws, and when Baston lost the ball, Olympiacos had a couple chances to tie. The second one worked as Schortsanitis stole at midcourt from Solomon and coasted for a dunk that made it 72-72. Baston scored on the offensive glass, but Schortsanitis again had the answer. Then time Maccabi went to Vujcic for a hoop and Solomon blocked Lewis's three-point attempt on the other end. Baston scored over Schortsanitis at the end of the 24-second clock and then Vujcic did the same, forcing an Olympiacos timeout. Maccabi kept the momentum as Vujcic lobbed to Baston for another basket, good for an 80-74 lead with 3:20 to go. Edney kept the Reds alive with a pair of shots that closed the gap to 82-78 with 1:02 left. After a Maccabi timeout, Parker saw Baston cutting for a monster slam while Lewis went off with his fifth foul for Olympiacos. When Edney missed some desperation triples, the Maccabi fans wer able to leave with thoughts of a trip to Prague just one more victory away.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006