Maceo Baston turned in his second huge performance against Efes Pilsen this season on Thursday night at Nokia Arena to lead Maccabi Tel Aviv into the Top 16 of the Euroleague. Baston led all scorers with 25 points as Maccabi won 88-81 to improve to 8-3 and take sole possession of first place in Group B.
The defending two-time Euroleague champs were not at their best, but after a poor second quarter that saw the visitors take a 45-41 halftime lead, Maccabi came back with a 10-0 run to go up for good in the third and put the game away with a 12-0 blitz in the fourth, during which Baston came up big with a pair of blocked shots.
"If we wouldn't have won tonight, some players wouldn't have made it out of the locker room [alive]," a clearly displeased Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said afterwards. "We don't have the best players in Europe, but we win as a team."
The teamwork showed as all five starters scored in double figures. But the problems came with the bench. Jamie Arnold's late hoop was the only points Gershon received from his reserves.
Will Solomon, who was at his best in the opening period against his former team, added 22 points and eight assists and Nikola Vujcic had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Tal Burstein and Anthony Parker scored 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Henry Domercant led Efes with 16 points, including a few pretty fade-away jumpers. Kaya Peker added 15 and Nikola Prkacin and Marko Popovic had 14 apiece.
With the Turkish champs leading 49-43 early in the third period, Baston started Maccabi's run with a tip-in. Burstein added four points from the line, but the key was the defense, as Maccabi held Efes scoreless for three minutes.
Popovic carried his team back to within 58-57 late in the third, but Parker set Baston up for dunks on back-to-back plays to help Tel Aviv rebuild the lead to 68-61 at the end of the third.
Then if there was any doubt left, Baston's blocks shut down the Efes attack in the fourth and Vujcic and Solomon took charge on the other end for a 12-0 run that sealed the win and secured at least another two month of Euroleague basketball in Tel Aviv.