Despite seeing its six-game winning streak snapped with a 74-71 defeat at Barcelona on Thursday night, Maccabi Tel Aviv will face Real Madrid in the Euroleague quarterfinals after finishing Top 16 Group F in third place.
Maccabi would have ended the group in second place and claimed home-court advantage in the quarters had it won in Spain. However, despite its loss, Olympiacos came to the yellow- and-blue’s assistance, beating Khimki Moscow 79-70, ensuring Tel Aviv advanced from third position.
Maccabi will return to Spain next week for Games 1 and 2 against Madrid on Wednesday and Friday, respectively. Games 3 and 4, if needed, will be played in Tel Aviv the following week, with a decisive Game 5 to take place in Spain if necessary.
Devin Smith and Ricky Hickman scored 16 points each for Maccabi on Thursday.
Alejandro Abrines led Barcelona with 21 points.
It was clear which team needed the win more in the first few minutes of the game, with Shawn James giving Maccabi a seven-point lead (12-5) after four minutes. However, Barca soon found it rhythm, with a Marcelinho Huertas threepointer capping an 8-0 run to give the hosts a one-point edge (13-12).
There was nothing to separate the teams at the end of the first period (19-19), and despite trailing by as many as eight points (32-24), Maccabi was within striking distance at the break, trailing by just four points (36-32).
Barca extended the gap to seven points at the start of the second half, but Maccabi was not about to give up without a fight, even though Olympiacos was ahead by as many as 15 points in Athens (45-30).
A Hickman basket capped a 9-0 surge which put Tel Aviv back in front (41-39) and the yellow-and-blue forced Barca’s Xavier Pascual to call a timeout after extending the margin to six points (50-44).
Maccabi still held a five-point gap (56-51) to start the final frame, outscoring the Catalans 24-15 in the third quarter, with the game in Athens also turning into a tight affair after Khimki closed to within three points of Olympiacos (60-57) with 10 minutes remaining.
It took Maccabi more than four minutes to score its first field goal of the fourth quarter, with an Abrines three giving Barca a 61-57 advantage.
However, Tel Aviv hit back with five quick points, with Smith’s triple putting Maccabi back ahead (62-61).
The lead continued to exchange hands in the subsequent minutes before Barca scored seven straight points to open a five-point cushion (72- 67) with one-and-a-half minutes to play.
Maccabi couldn’t close the gap, but Olympiacos came to Tel Aviv’s help, clinching a win over Moscow with a late surge to leapfrog into second place while also gifting the yellowand- blue a place in the last eight.
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