Maccabi Tel Aviv remained on track to become the first team to win three straight European championships with a 77-73 victory over Olympiacos Piraeus in the deciding game of the best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoffs on Thursday night at Nokia Arena that sends the yellow-and-blue to the Final Four in Prague.
The defending two-time Euroleague champs will face the team it defeated in last year's final, Tau Vitoria, in the semifinals on April 28. Tau clinched its spot by edging Panathinaikos 74-71 on Wednesday in Greece.
The other semifinal will feature CSKA Moscow, which also reached last season's Final Four, and Winterthur Barcelona. Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 76-70 at home Thursday night to clinch their series.
Will Solomon led five Maccabi players in double figures with 18 points, including reserve Kirk Penney, who reached 10 points for the first time since opening night back in October. The seven points in 7:30 second-period minutes marked the most Penney had played or scored since the first game in the Top 16 back in February.
Even Penney himself didn't expect to play such a big role in the game. "I was surprised to be out there, but happy to play," he said.
Nikola Vujcic also came up big, scoring Maccabi's final eight points in the last four minutes.
Maccabi seemed in control for most of the game, always finding a way to pull away when the Reds closed the gap, but a nearly four-minute drought early in the fourth quarter allowed Olympiacos to come back and even take the lead, forcing a nail-biting finish.
Christos Harissis drilled a three-pointer with 3:30 remaining to put the visitors ahead 71-69. After Vujcic tied the score from the line, Olympiacos went to Panayiotis Vasilopoulos for three, but his shot was no good. Vujcic then made one free throw to put Maccabi ahead.
Olympiacos took its time before former Maccabi player Quincy Lewis attempted a three, but Solomon blocked the shot as the 24-second clock expired. Vujcic - again from the line - put Maccabi up by three with 2:10 on the clock.
That lead would hold as both teams had trouble finding the bottom of the net - Jamie Arnold even missed a dunk.
The nerves showed on the Olympiacos end as point guard Tyus Edney, a 77.5-percent free-throw shooter, made one from the line with 1:08 left.
Big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis had a chance to tie the game from the free-throw line with 24.8 seconds to go, but he also made just one of two. Olympiacos fouled Derrick Sharp immediately and he made two free throws to put Maccabi up 76-73.
Olympiacos went for a three to tie, but Manolis Papamakarios's three with 10 seconds left bounced short and Vujcic grabbed the rebound, essentially sealing Maccabi's trip to Prague.
"We didn't feel like we played well, but we pulled through," Anthony Parker said. "This is my fifth Final Four and every year it gets tougher, but it also gets sweeter.
"We have two games to go. We'll take it game by game and hopefully we can take the cup."
Allon Sinai contributed to this report.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>