Maccabi Tel Aviv squandered a golden opportunity to secure its place in the Euroleague quarterfinals and remain in the hunt for home-court advantage in the playoffs after dropping to a dramatic 72-70 defeat at Partizan Belgrade on Thursday night.
Maccabi led for almost the entire game, and by as many as 15 points, but lost its head in the final quarter and fell to a costly loss. Tel Aviv dropped to a 7-4 record, two games behind both Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow. Real beat CSKA 93-79 on Thursday in Spain to move tied with the Russians for first place in Top 16 Group F.
Maccabi, which remained in third place, hosts Real next week.
The top four teams will advance to the quarters, with the top two to also have home-court advantage.
Alex Tyus led Maccabi with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Bogdan Bogdanovic had 18 points for Partizan, which improved to 3-8.
Maccabi center Sofo began the night on the bench after being doubtful for the game with an eye injury. However, he dominated the paint when he entered the floor, leading Maccabi to a strong start.
Sofo's three-point play late in the first quarter opened a 20-12 lead and took his personal tally to 10 points in a mere four minutes on court.
A Tyrese Rice three-pointer gave Tel Aviv a nine-point cushion (23-14) at the end of the frame and two consecutive triples by David Blu extended Maccabi's margin to 15 points (29-14). But Belgrade wouldn’t allow the yellow-and-blue to open an unassailable gap by halftime the way it did when the teams met in Tel Aviv two months ago (47-19), closing to within nine points (40-31) at the interval.
It took Maccabi more than two minutes to score its first points of the second half, allowing the hosts to cut the deficit to six points. However, a Guy Pnini three snapped Partizan's momentum (47-38) and Sofo's free throws reestablished a double-digit margin (51-41).
Sofo hobbled off court with an apparent knee injury shortly afterwards, and never returned, but Tyus came off the bench to score Maccabi's final four points of the third quarter to maintain a promising gap (57-47).
However, Partizan stormed out of the gates at the start of the fourth period, with five points in a row from Bogdanovic bringing the hosts within just two points (57-55), the closest the Serbs came since the second minute of the game.
Partizan's raucous supporters were in full voice, but Maccabi responded with five straight points, with Devin Smith's basket opening a 62-55 advantage.
The hosts never lost heart, though, with Joffrey Lauvergne's basket from an offensive rebound capping a 7-0 run and tying the score at 62-62 with 4:27 minutes to play.
The game remained tight until the final seconds, with a Pnini three tying the score at 68-68 with 45 seconds remaining. However, Bogdanovic hit a triple with 21 seconds to go at the other end to break Maccabi hearts and a crucial turnover by Smith ended Tel Aviv's hopes and significantly hurt the yellow-and-blue's chances of a top-two finish.