maccabi tel aviv 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Forty-eight hours after hitting its lowest point of the season, Maccabi Tel Aviv reached its highest with a 68-56 victory over reigning European champions CSKA Moscow in Game 2 of the best-of-three Euroleague quarterfinal playoff at the Nokia Arena.
Just as importantly, and quite possibly much more, Maccabi also regained its lost pride on Thursday night, playing with the heart and urgency it lacked so badly in Moscow.
Nikola Vujcic and Will Bynum led Maccabi with 15 and 14 points, respectively. However, the win was first and foremost clinched by the hosts' superb defensive play.
CSKA only managed 19 of 60 from the field (32 percent) and were forced to fight for every basket they scored.
Oscar Torres (12 points) and Trajan Langdon (11 points) led the visitors in scoring, but with Theo Papaloukas and J.R. Holden only scoring a combined 13 points, CSKA never really had any real chance of winning.
A third and decisive game will know be played in Moscow next Thursday, with the winner advancing to the Final Four in Athens.
Despite Thursday's performance which ended CSKA's 18-game Euroleague winning streak, Maccabi will still be the underdog on Thursday.
Nevertheless, coach Neven Spahija, who may have saved his job with the victory, will be rallying his players to believe that what seemed impossible only a few days ago is now achievable.
Speaking after the game Vujcic looked forward to the decider in Moscow. "Everyone knows in one game anything is possible and we know what to do now.
We learned a lot in this game and showed we can play." CSKA coach Ettore Messina reflected: "These two teams have shown now that they play much better at home so I hope this will work out again. We could not expect reasonably to beat Maccabi 2-0."
Baskets were hard to come by at the start of the game and the teams only reached a combined 10 points midway through the first period when Derrick Sharp gave the hosts a 6-4 lead with a jumper.
Will Bynum opened the second quarter with a three and another triple by Simas Jasatis a minute later gave Tel Aviv a six point lead (17-11). Torres's basket from beyond the arc cut the visitor's deficit to two points (19-17), but those would prove to be the last points CSKA scored for a while and in the subsequent minutes Maccabi opened a substantial lead.
A 13-0 run by the hosts, which began with a Lior Eliyahu lay-up, was capped by Jamie Arnold's two successful free throws with three minutes remaining in the half.
Vujcic's basket 30 seconds later gave Maccabi its biggest lead of the half (34-18). However a 7-1 run by Moscow, which was capped by Torres's three, brought the visitors within 10 points (35-25) of Tel Aviv at the interval.
Trajan Langdon scored the first points of the second half for CSKA, but Maccabi had no intention of letting its lead slip away and extended its cushion in the following minutes.
Two points by Bynum at the start of the final period kept the hosts comfortably ahead, but Moscow continued to push Tel Aviv until the final minutes. Anton Ponkrashov's lay-up cut his team's deficit to 13 points.
However Vujcic's successful hook shot with three minutes remaining gave Maccabi the breathing space (63-48) it needed to clinch the win and force a third and decisive game in Moscow.