Euroleague Basketball: Mac attack too much for Barcelona

Morris leads the way wth double-double as Sherf's squad takes series' first game.

mac ta halperin 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
mac ta halperin 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv has one foot in the Euroleague Final Four after surviving a stong defensive performance from Barcelona and winning the first of a three game quarterfinal series 81-75 at the Nokia Arena on Tuesday night. Coach Tzvika Sherf's team travelled to Spain early Wednesday morning knowing a win in Thursday's Game 2 will catapult them into the season-ending tournament in Madrid, a situation which looked incredibly unlikely just three months ago when the club sacked then-new coach Oded Katash following a run of poor results. Sherf has now won 10 out of 12 games in Europe since taking over on January 1, and once again inspired his side to the win on Tuesday night. If the side continues like this it will not fear either Italian side Montepaschi Siena or Turkish team FB Ulker which it will play in the semifinals in May. Terence Morris, who has emerged as the most significant player on the Maccabi team over the course of the season, stood out once more for the hosts, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Maccabi's Uruguayan center Esteban Batista also made a massive contribution, finishing the game with a tally of 15 points and five rebounds in just under 21 minutes of play. A 6-0 run to start the second quarter made the difference in the middle of the game, while the efforts of Morris, Nikola Vujcic and Halperin in the second half ensured the win. Although he was part of the squad Tal Burstein didn't make an appearence, and spent much of the first half riding on an exercise bike positioned behind one of the baskets. Barcelona's performance was clearly a team effort in the first half, when no player on the visiting team scored more than six points. But Gianluca Basile and Ersan Ilyasova came into their own in the second half and ended with 17 and 21 points respectively. In the end, despite the top scorers, it was not enough, and Barca will be up against it come Thursday. "The pressure is on them now because we've won the first game," Yotam Halperin said. "We must play aggressive in Spain and we will be ready for whatever they throw at us in Barcelona." Defensive prevalency in the match became apparent early on. Both sides were holding off attacks with Morris impressing at both ends of the court for Maccabi and Mario Kasun for Barcelona. At the end of the first quarter Maccabi held a two-point lead (16-14). The low scoring first quarter was just what Barcelona wanted, but the start of the second shook up the visitors. Tel Aviv had no intention of staying back and Batista came into his own, scoring nine points in the first half before being substituted for Vujcic. Morris scored 12 of his own in the half and the hosts went into the break leading by seven points (36-29) The third quarter saw a different side of both teams. Barcelona played hard and Tel Aviv just couldn't keep up. Although a Batista dunk gave the hosts some breathing space (57-54) Ilyasova popped up with a triple to tie the scores for the first time since the opening minutes and the teams went into the final quarter equal on 57-57. The crowd was incensed and lively and urging the home team forward. Casspi scored a three at the start of the fourth and then won a rebound to the delight of the supporters. The lack of penetration by Jaka Lakovic for Barcelona was key and as the quarter drew on the hosts grew in confidence and took the game by the scruff of the neck. With 3:14 left on the clock Maccabi was winning by five points (73-68) and managed to keep up the gap in the face of intense pressure for the remainder of the game.