Basketball: Maccabi Tel Aviv betters Barca in dramatic fashion

Yellow-and-blue improves to 2-1 after nail-biting encounter in Tel Aviv; Pargo leads way with 20 points.

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Sofoklis Schortsanitis (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Sofoklis Schortsanitis
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv finally showed it has what it takes to defeat Europe’s best this season on Thursday night, edging Barcelona 70-68 in a thrilling Euroleague encounter at Yad Eliyahu Arena.
Maccabi led for much of the night, including by double figures midway through the fourth period. However, the Spanish powerhouse fought back and had a chance to tie the score in the closing seconds, only for Devin Smith to block former Maccabi center Maciej Lampe with the game on the line.
Jeremy Pargo had 20 points and seven assists for Maccabi, which improved to 2-1 in the Top 16. Devin Smith added 15 points, while Ante Tomic had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Barcelona, which fell to 1-2.
The key for Maccabi was always going to be its defensive play and the yellow-and-blue suffocated the visitors right from the tip-off.
Barca scored the first points of the night after 14 seconds, but took almost three minutes to add to that tally, allowing Tel Aviv to seize the lead.
However, while coach Guy Goodes’s defensive game-plan worked to perfection, his players couldn’t capitalize on the offensive end.
Nevertheless, it was Maccabi which had a two-point edge (15- 13) after 10 minutes and four straight points by Joe Alexander on his Euroleague debut extended the gap to six points (19-13).
Mario Hezonja’s three-pointer brought Barca within a single point (23-22) midway through the second period, but Maccabi dominated the remainder of the first half. Sofo terrorized the Spaniards under the basket while Smith punished them from beyond the arc, with his second three of the night opening a double-digit margin (36- 26).
Maccabi took an eight-point cushion (36-28) into the break and Yogev Ohayon’s lay-up increased the gap back to double figures once more (39-28).
Barcelona slowly but surely ate away at the margin, only for Pargo’s three as the shot clock expired to take the lead to nine points once more (43-34).
Another piece of luck saw Nate Linhart hit a triple just before the final buzzer to the third quarter, giving the hosts a six-point advantage (53-47) entering the final 10 minutes.
However, it was Barca which got the fourth frame off to the better start, making the most of its height advantage in the paint.
Tomic’s basket capped a 7-0 run which gave the visitors their first lead (56-55) since the first quarter and the momentum had clearly shifted in Barcelona’s favor.
However, the next four minutes would be dominated by Maccabi, which went on a crucial 11-0 surge to reestablish a double-digit cushion (66-56).
Smith’s three sparked the run, with three-point plays by Pargo and Brian Randle opening a 66-56 lead.
Lampe finally ended Barca’s scoreless run after more than four minutes and Hezonja’s basket moved the visitors within four points (66-62) with just over a minute to play.
Barcelona could have leveled the score in the closing seconds but Lampe was blocked by Smith and Pargo clinched the win from the line.