Maccabi overcomes Real in Madrid to clinch top spot

Team to play Partizan Belgrade in a best-of-five Euroleague quarterfinal series after tight 66-64 victory in Spain.

maccabi tel aviv 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
maccabi tel aviv 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will play Partizan Belgrade in a best-of-five Euroleague quarterfinal series after coming from behind to defeat Real Madrid 66-64 in Spain on Thursday evening.
The result gave Maccabi top spot in Group F with a 4-2 record and ensured it avoided the all-conquering Barcelona, at least until the Final Four.
The yellow-and-blue was behind for the majority of Thursday night's encounter, but a strong fourth quarter saw it take control of the game.
Five Maccabi players scored in double figures, although top scorers David Bluthenthal and D'or Fischer collected just 13 points each.
Maccabi forward Stephane Lasme, who moved to Israel from Partizan in the offseason, was a key player in the win in Madrid.
"It was a tough game. We were not ready in the opening minutes," he said. "We managed to play as a team after that, to play tough and power the offensive boards.
"I am very excited to play against Partizan. It was my first team in Europe and it is always nice to go back."
Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon was delighted with his team's dedication down the stretch and described the triumph over long-time rival Ettore Messina as "a great victory".
But Gershon was not ready to gloat over his success, immediately looking forward to the next stage.
"I hope that everyone realizes that the hard work we’ve put in until now needs to continue in order to reach the Final Four, because that is a goal that is greater than our potential," he said.
"Of course this is a great victory. Keeping the players believing so that they would play defense was the first key."
Sergio Llull got 14 points for Madrid, which now faces the daunting prospect of a quarterfinal series with Barcelona.
It was a second night of disappointment for Real, after the expensively assembled soccer team crashed out of the UEFA Champions League against Lyon on Wednesday.
Messina blamed his team's capitulation, after leading by as many as 16points, on poor defense. But he stressed the still believes Madrid hasa chance against Barca.
"We managed to control the game in the opening three quarters, but werenervous from then on," he explained. "We allowed 30 points in thefourth quarter and it is impossible to win under these conditions.Everyone in Europe thinks that we have no chance against Barcelona, butwe will fight and play hard."
The quarterfinals begin on March 23 and the Final Four will be held in Paris in the first week of May.