Euroleague Basketball: Mac sets up clash with Barca

Halperin scores 17 points and Vujcic 12 points in 80-66 win over Zalgiris.

Halperin 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Halperin 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv took a significant step towards Final Four qualification on Thursday, defeating Zalgiris Kaunas 80-66 at the Nokia Arena to secure home court advantage in the Euroleague's quarterfinal playoff. Maccabi will host Barcelona on April 1 in the first game of the best-of-three series and will play game two in Spain two days later. Should a third game be needed to decide the tie it will be played in Tel Aviv on April 10. Barcelona booked its place in the last eight with a 64-62 home win over last year's finalist CSKA Moscow, finishing second in Group G behind the Russians. In Tel Aviv, Maccabi was ahead for most of the encounter and was never in any real danger of losing to the Lithuanians and failing to secure first position in Group F. Yotam Halperin was superb for a second straight week, leading the team with 17 points and eight assists. Nikola Vujcic added 12 points, six rebounds and four assists, with Terence Morris brilliant on both ends of the floor, scoring 11 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking six shots. "I think this is a superb achievement. We've worked very hard for this and have won a very difficult group," Maccabi coach Tzvika Sherf said. "We have a few days now to prepare for our first game against Barcelona and we will learn all about them in the coming days. I haven't seen Barcelona much this season, but I watched them against Roma last week and they have a very strong roster and are no pushover. "We do, however, have home court advantage and will do our very best to advance to the Final Four." Marcus Brown scored 16 points for the visitors, with Jonas Maciulis adding 13 points. Vujcic scored the first points of the night and an Omri Casspi basket after two minutes gave the hosts a six point margin (8-2). Maccabi was threatening to run riot, but its rebounding struggles saw the Lithuanians go ahead thanks to some easy second chance points. A DeJuan Collins jumper gave the visitors their first lead of the night (14-12) and another offensive rebound resulted in two more Zalgiris points and a three point advantage (18-15). The hosts, however, regained control of the encounter with a quarter ending 9-2 run, with Halperin hitting a three-pointer from mid-court to beat the first period buzzer (24-20). A Morris three at the start of the second quarter extended the margin to 29-20 and Derrick Sharp's lay-up midway through the period gave Maccabi its biggest lead of the first half (38-25). Just when everything seemed to be going Tel Aviv's way silly turnovers brought Zalgiris back into the game. A 10-0 run, which was capped by a Paulius Jankunas three, cut the margin to three points (38-35) and silenced the Nokia Arena. Halperin made sure, however, that the hosts had a reasonable halftime lead, scoring a triple to open a 42-35 margin at the break. Points were hard to come by at the start of the second half, with both teams combining for 11 points in the first five minutes of the third period. Crucially, Maccabi broke out of the scoring funk first and went on a game winning 12-0 run. Halperin continued his excellent scoring day and Casspi capped the run with a block and dunk one-and-a-half minutes to the end of the quarter (56-40). The hosts took a 14 point margin (60-46) into the final 10 minutes of the encounter and even though Marko Popovic cut the deficit to nine points at the start of the fourth quarter Tel Aviv's victory was never under any doubt. Sharp hit three triples in quick succession, regaining Tel Aviv's 14 point advantage (71-57), ending any hopes the visitors had of ruining Maccabi's party. "We led by 13 points in the first half, but made mistakes and let them back into the game," Sherf said. "We controlled the tempo in the second half and in the fourth quarter we were much better than them. I'm very pleased."