Maccabi Tel Aviv's Euroleague campaign took a turn for the worse on Thursday night in Moscow.
Despite a valiant comeback, the Israelis suffered a crucial 77-72 defeat at CSKA Moscow, falling to third place in Group C.
Just last week Tel Aviv was well placed to finish top of the group, but the home defeat to Caja Laboral Vitoria last Thursday followed by the loss in Russia seriously complicated the team's chances of reaching the quarterfinal playoffs.
Even if Maccabi wins its final two group games against Lottomatica Roma and Maroussi BC it would still need other results to go its way to finish higher than third position and avoid a difficult Top 16 draw.
Tel Aviv got Thursday's game off to a horrendous start, trailing 28-11 after the first period and 36-15 midway through the second quarter. However, Pini Gershon's men fought back - tying the score in the fourth period - and the game went down to the wire. Maccabi had chances to take the lead, but squandered them time and again and CSKA scored the final five points of the night from the free-throw line to clinch the significant win.
"We played superb defense in the second half and we got back into the game," Gershon said. "However, you can't afford to make bad decisions in the fourth period and our mistakes decided the game."
Chuck Eidson led Maccabi with 17 points, with Andrew Wisniewski adding 16 points and nine rebounds. D'or Fischer had 10 points for Tel Aviv, which turned the ball over 20 times and hit just five of 21 from three-point range.
Sasha Kaun scored 21 points for CSKA, with Trajan Langdon, Ramunas Siskauskas and Zoran Planinic each adding 13 points.
CSKA wasted no time, racing into an early lead which would only continue to mushroom.
Kaun terrorized Maccabi under the baskets, while Langdon was scoring at will from beyond the arc. The American guard's third three-pointer of the night midway through the first period opened a 17-4 gap, with a Kaun dunk extending the margin to 15 points (24-9).
Moscow took a 28-11 advantage into the second period after a J.R. Holden triple and the hosts opened a record 21-point lead (36-15) four minutes into the second quarter following a Siskauskas lay-up.
Tel Aviv was still trailing 45-27 with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, but the visitors ended the half with a 7-0 run to remain in touch with the Russians.
The momentum remained on Maccabi's side at the start of the third period, with Gershon's men racing to a 9-0 run to close within two points (45-43).
Tel Aviv was still down by two points with 10 minutes remaining (58-56) after Wisniewski scored the final points of the third quarter and the game would remain tight until its final moments.
Moscow's Planinic began the fourth quarter with a three, but Tel Aviv was never too far behind and a skilful Eidson move finally tied the score (66-66) four minutes into the final quarter.
Maccabi squandered two chances to take the lead in the subsequent possessions, but was still only one-point down (73-72) with a minute remaining.
However, two crucial mistakes by Wisniewski, who was excellent until that moment, would cost Tel Aviv the game. The American playmaker first turned over the ball and then fouled Siskauskas, who scored twice from the line.
Maccabi still had one more chance to tie the score, but David Bluthenthal could not hit his shot and Tel Aviv fell to a critical defeat and lost any realistic hope of finishing top of Group C.
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