Euroleague Basketball: Maccabi progresses to Final Four

Tel Aviv breezes past Barcelona in the third encounter of tie to had to Madrid.

maccabi win 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
maccabi win 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
After a one year absence Maccabi Tel Aviv is back in the Euroleague Final Four. Maccabi defeated Barcelona 88-75 in the decisive Game 3 of the quarterfinals series on Thursday night at the Nokia Arena, advancing to a seventh Final Four in nine years. Waiting for Tel Aviv in Madrid on May 2 is Italian side Montepaschi Siena, which progressed to the Final Four last Thursday with a 2-0 series sweep over Fenerbahce Ulker. Thursday's Game 3 was a fiery affair and threatened to boil over more than once. Maccabi's Vonteego Cummings, Derrick Sharp, and Esteban Batista were all ejected during the second half, with Barcelona's Gianluca Basile also given his marching orders. Maccabi trailed for the first 10 minutes of the game, but took the lead at the start of the second quarter and never looked back. Thursday's victory completes a remarkable comeback for Tel Aviv. The team was in a shambles on January 1 after Oded Katash left the club, but Tzvika Sherf took charge of the broken team and guided it to 11 wins in 14 Euroleague games and a place in European basketball's premier event. Maccabi was led on Thursday by Will Bynum, who scored 21 points in 28 minutes, and by David Bluthenthal, who also scored 21 points, hitting five of six shots from beyond the arc. Yotam Halperin added 17 points and nine assists, with Terence Morris contributing eight points and eight assists. Roger Grimau scored 18 points for Barcelona, with Fran Vazquez adding 15 points and 13 rebounds. Barcelona executed its game-plan to perfection at the start of the encounter and led 10-3 after Basile scored his first two points of the game. Five straight points by Nikola Vujcic brought the hosts back within three points (11-8), but the Spaniards were ahead by seven points once more after Vazquez's jumper with just under four minutes to play in the first period (15-8). Halperin's three-point move at the end of the quarter cut the deficit to a single point (19-18) and a Maccabi run at the start of the second period gave the hosts a stranglehold on the game. Bynum gave Tel Aviv its first lead of the night with a three-pointer at the start of the quarter and two triples by Bluthenthal increased the margin to 29-23. Maccabi suffocated Barca's offense and the visitors committed 10 turnovers in the first half, more than in either of the first two games in the series. Tel Aviv continued to extend the gap as the period progressed and Halperin's three points with three minutes to play in the first half opened a 40-29 lead. A Halperin free-throw at the end of the second quarter ensured the hosts were still comfortably ahead at the break (43-34), but the Catalans ate away at the margin at the start of the second half and came within one possession. Grimau scored five straight points at the beginning of the third period and two Denis Marconato free-throws midway through the quarter reduced the gap to 50-47. The pressure began to mount on the hosts, but Maccabi exploded on court when it needed it most and a 7-0 run regained its hold on the encounter. Cummings capped Tel Aviv's run with two points, but that proved to be his last contribution on the night as seconds later the American and Basile clashed under the Maccabi basket and both players were ejected. Sharp was also sent off for leaving his team's bench, further infuriating the sold-out Nokia Arena. Bynum's three to end the third period maintained Tel Aviv's double-digit lead (63-53) and it wouldn't be long before the hosts clinched a Final Four berth. Bluthenthal's basket to begin the fourth quarter was a sign of things to come as the American sharp-shooter completely obliterated the visitors in the final 10 minutes of the game. His steal and dunk followed by two three's opened a 75-58 lead and despite Esteban Batista's ejection Maccabi would not be caught.