Maccabi one win from Final Four

Vujcic leading scorer as Tel Aviv wins 87-78 against Olympiacos Piraeus in first of three-game series.

maccabi TA 88 (photo credit: )
maccabi TA 88
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv got Nikola Vujcic back in great shape and moved within one win of a third consecutive trip to the Euroleague Final Four with an 87-78 win over Olympiacos Piraeus in Game 1 of the best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoffs on Tuesday night at Nokia Arena. Maccabi will have a chance to win the series in Game two at the Peace & Freindship Arena outside of Athens on Thursday. Game 3, if needed, will be back in Tel Aviv on April 13. Vujcic led all scorers with 23 points and added seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks for his best performance in weeks. Just one week ago, the Croatian center was shut down after just five minutes in a Top 16 game at Ulker Istanbul with back pain. "[Will] Solomon helped me a lot in the beginning and he got me into the game," Vujcic said, crediting the point guard who finished with 12 points and five assists including two on back-toback plays in the first quarter. "It will be a tough game in Greece and it's hard to say that we will finish the job in Greece. They play differently at home and it wont be an easy game," Vujcic added. Maceo Baston also came up big with eight of his 12 points in the last six minutes after Olympiacos cam back to tie the score. Olympiacos playmaker Tyus Edney led the visitors with 20, but big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis was limited to 10 points in just 13 minutes due to foul trouble. "I think that if [Schortsanitis] played more, we would have had a better chance," Olympiacos coach Jonas Kazlauskas said. "I hope we'll be back nest week." Maccabi never trailed, but the visiting reds never wavered either. Olympiacos fought back from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to tie the game twice in the fourth quarter. But after Schortsanitis made it 74-74 with five-and-a-half minutes remaining, Maccabi got six unanswered points from Vujcic and Baston to regain control for good. Rodney twice cut the deficit back to four, but again it was Vujcic and Baston with the answer. The Greek side was unhappy with its defense. "We have to improve on our defense if were to beat Maccabi," Edney said. "Our defense was better in the second half but it wasn't enough to win the game." Former Maccabi player Quincy Lewis is confident that his new team can make a comeback. "We'll have home court advantage and that will be important for us to get a win on Thursday. We are going home to attack and we're hoping to be back in Tel Aviv next week." The biggest concern for Maccabi coach Pini Gershon will be how to divide the minutes on Thursday after three starters topped the 35-minute mark Solomon, 37 minutes 45 seconds Anthony Parker (37:30) and Vujcic (35:45). Tal Burstein came off the bench to play 32 as well. "Players who played less today like Derrick Sharp and Jaime Arnold will have to give us more on Thursday so that we can advance," Gershon said. "We knew it would be a battle and it was. It won't be easy on Thursday either. They have an excellent team coached by an excellent coach." In Tuesday's other quarterfinal games, J.R. Holden drilled five three-pointers to lead CSKA Moscow with 19 points in a 66-57 win over visiting Efes Pilsen; Panathinaikos defeated Tau Vitoria 84-72 behind 15 from Mike Batiste and 13 points and six assists from Vasilis Spanoulis; and Barcelona downed rival Real Madrid 72-58 thanks to Shammond Williams's game-high 23. Scorers for Maccabi: Nikola Vujcic 23 (7 rebounds, 5 assists), Maceo Baston 15, Will Solomon 12 (5 assists), Tal Burstein 11, Anthony Parker 10 (8 rebounds), Jamie Arnold 6, Sharon Shason 5, Derrick Sharp 5. Yaniv Green played but did not score. Allon Sinai contributed to this report