Mac TA clinches spot in quarterfinals

Maccabi Tel Aviv will face CSKA Moscow in a best-of-three Euroleague quarterfinal playoff series at the start of April in a rematch of last year's championship game. Maccabi's 98-94 overtime victory over Pau-Orthez in France on Thursday night, combined with Tau Vitoria's 77-72 win against Lottomatica Roma in Italy, means that the Israeli club will finish second in Group D regardless of the result of their final Top 16 game against Roma at Nokia Arena next week. CSKA sealed up the top position in Group E by defeating Pini Gershon's Olympiacos 83-79 on Wednesday and will have the advantage of playing the third and final game of the quarterfinal series at home should it be necessary. On Thursday, Maccabi led throughout the game and never trailed, but it did need overtime after a late Pau surge tied the score at the end of regulation. "I am very proud of my players, because we won against a very good Pau-Orthez team," Maccabi coach Neven Spahija said. "I'm aware of the fact that we need to play with more consistency, because we let them come back. "Fortunately, we could keep control of the game in the last minutes and get a precious victory which books our place in the quarterfinals." Maccabi had to manage without its best player on Thursday, with Nikola Vujcic's strained hamstring forcing him to watch the game from the bench. Tal Burstein played his best game of the season in Vujcic's absence, scoring 21 points, grabbing seven rebounds and passing five assists. "I felt good," he said. "Everybody made an extra effort tonight. "We almost lost the game, but we showed a lot of character." Of his team's opponent in the last eight, the Israeli swingman said, "CSKA is in a league of its own, but we will be ready for them. It will be very difficult to defeat them, but we'll do our best for our fans." Maccabi began the game against Orthez well and led 26-20 after the first quarter. Tel Aviv continued to increase its advantage and led by double digits in the second period. However, Orthez dominated the final minutes of the half and cut the margin to 48-45 at the break. Maccabi led by as many as 13 points (67-54) in the third quarter and had a comfortable 67-58 lead going into the last 10 minutes. Pau came back to within five with 22 second remaining in the fourth quarter, and the yellow-and-blue suffered what is quickly becoming a characteristic collapse in the final seconds. Aaron Miles's basket with two seconds remaining tied the game at 89-89 and forced overtime. Orthez opened the extra five minutes with a 5-0 run, but Tel Aviv came back and Derrick Sharp sealed the win with two free throws at the end of overtime. "It was a decisive game for both teams," Sharp said. "We entered the game with better intensity and great concentration and tried to deny Pau-Orthez those things. Even after they made a big effort to come back, we were able to have the right reaction on defense and clinch the ticket for the quarterfinals."