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(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv knew what to expect, braced itself, but in the end was helpless as Olympiacos Piraeus played its game and downed the two-time defending Euroleague champs 76-70 on Thursday at the Peace & Friendship Arena outside Athens to force a third and deciding game in the Euroleague Quarterfinal Playoffs.
Maccabi will host Game 3 next Thursday at Nokia Arena with a spot at the Final Four in Prague on the line.
In the days leading up to the game, Maccabi spoke about the heated atmosphere at the Olympiacos arena, their opponents' deep bench and aggressive play, the need for Maccabi to use its bench and how to stop Sofoklis Schortsanitis. But despite the talk, Maccabi looked ill-prepared.
Olympiacos slowed the pace, limiting Maccabi to 15, 15 and 16 points in the first three quarters. Schortsanitis dominated inside, scoring 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, and Pini Gershon again ignored his reserves for the most part and played his stars as much as he could.
The three players that saw at least 35 minutes of action in Game 1 on Tuesday - Anthony Parker, Nikola Vujcic and Will Solomon - combined for 106 minutes in this one and it could have been more. Parker was substituted in the first half by the referees after he was cut and bleeding on his elbow, Vujcic came out late in the game after hurting his hand, and most of Solomon's time on the pine came after he picked up his fourth foul.
On the other hand, one of the players Gershon said would need to play more, Jamie Arnold, played two minutes.
Maccabi was never out of the game, closing big gaps to remain in the hunt in the final minutes. Derrick Sharp brought the team within 69-66 with 1:30 remaining and had a hand in forcing a Tyus Edney turnover on the ensuing play, but Solomon's attempted three bounced out.
After Olympiacos milked the 24-second clock down to the buzzer, former Maccabi swingman Quincy Lewis misfired on a three-pointer, but Panayiotis Vasilopoulos swooped in for the rebound, scored and drew a foul from Maceo Baston to give the hosts a six-point advantage with 17 seconds to go, essentially sealing the result.
Maccabi continued to foul, hoping to pull out a miracle that would help them avoid needing to focus on basketball during next Wednesday's Passover seder, but Vasilopoulos was on target from the line in the final minute to guarantee the win.
Lewis added 14 for Olympiacos, and Vasilopoulos and Edney scored 10 each.