Maccabi TA one win away from Final Four

Yellow-and-blue take 2-1 series lead after holding off Panathinaikos 65-62 at raucous Nokia

Yogev Ohayon 390 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Yogev Ohayon 390
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv moved to within one win of the Euroleague Final Four on Tuesday night, edging Panathinaikos 65-62 at Nokia Arena to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series which has already become an instant classic.
After being humiliated by the Greeks in Game 1, Maccabi recorded a remarkable overtime victory to tie the series in Athens and it showed its heart and class once more on Tuesday to stave off Pao in a nerve-racking finish.
Maccabi also hosts Game 4 at Nokia on Thursday, knowing a win will see it advance to the Final Four for the sixth time in the past nine years.
A Panathinaikos win on Thursday will send the series to a decisive fifth game in Athens.
Yogev Ohayon was in inspired form for Maccabi for a second straight game, scoring 12 points and passing six assists in 33 minutes on court.
Devin Smith added 11 points and nine rebounds, but it was an all-around tenacious team display by Maccabi on Tuesday, with four more players scoring eight points or more.
Mike Batiste had 13 points for Pao, which is one defeat away from relinquishing its crown as European champion.
“We have won just one game tonight and that is the only way we should look at it,” Maccabi coach David Blatt said.
“We weren’t good enough on offense in the second half and that almost cost us.
We will have to play better to win the game on Thursday.”
A Keith Langford basket opened an early 5-0 Maccabi lead, but the visitors soon leveled the score and a tense encounter seemed to be on the cards.
However, after being battered on the defensive end in the first two games of the series, Maccabi refused to allow Pao to dictate the tempo on Tuesday, holding the Greeks to just five points in the first seven minutes of the game.
A circus shot by Ohayon with 3:25 to play in the first quarter took Tel Aviv’s gap to double-digits (16-5) and Tal Burstein’s three-pointer to cap the period made it 24-13.
Maccabi faced its first real test of the night after a quick 7-0 Pao run cut the margin to just six points (26-20).
It passed it with flying colors, led by the tremendous Ohayon.
The Israeli guard was worried at the start of the season that he would be relegated to the outskirts of the Maccabi bench, but he continued to solidify his place as a star of the team for many years to come on Tuesday, with his layup taking Tel Aviv back into a doublefigure comfort zone (37-26).
A Lior Eliyahu basket took the lead to 15 points (41-26) and Maccabi had a 13- point cushion (41-28) at the break.
Nevertheless, Pao always remained within striking distance, closing to within five (46-41) with 3:25 to play in the third and trailing by just six (50-44) with one quarter remaining.
A Batiste dunk early in the fourth cut the gap to just four and a Dimitris Diamantidis three with 6:15 left in the game brought the visitors within one possession (56-53) for the first time since early in the first period.
Stratos Perperoglou’s basket with 2:14 to go made it a one-point game (61-60), with a Diamantidis tally ensuring there was still just a single point to separate the sides (63-62) with 35 seconds to go.
The final play Blatt drew up for Maccabi never came to fruition, but Hendrix somehow got a hand on the rebound from Langford’s missed shot and the hosts were ahead by three yet again.
Pao still had a chance to tie the game, but Maccabi didn’t allow clutch master Diamantidis to take the shot from beyond the arc and 11,000 fans erupted in joy after Nick Calathes missed at the buzzer.