Maccabi takes first place

Tel Aviv routs Barcelona and enjoys defeats to its rivals to finish the Euroleague regular season as Group B champs.

maccabi baston 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
maccabi baston 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv again benefited from the luck of champions on Thursday night. The two-time defending Euroleague champs beat the 2003 champions, Winterthur Barcelona, 88-72 on Thursday night at Nokia Arena, went to the locker rooms and after 10 minutes began to celebrate when both Efes Pilsen and Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius lost their respective games to gift Maccabi first place in Group B at the end of the regular season. Maccabi finished with a 9-5 mark, the same as Efes, but owned the head-to-head tiebreaker. L. Rytas (8-6) placed third and Barcelona (7-7) fourth. Tel Aviv will be a top seed in the Top 16 draw on Monday in Barcelona, thus avoiding traditional powers Panathinaikos, Tau Vitoria and Unicaja Malaga, who are the other three No. 1 seeds. Last season Maccabi defeated both Panathinaikos and Tau at the Final Four in Moscow on the way to the title. While most of the players were thrilled with the result, coach Pini Gershon put things in perspective. "First place now means nothing," he said. "We must still finish in one of the top two places in the next round." Only the top two teams in each of the four Top 16 groups advance to the quarterfinals. Maceo Baston led Maccabi with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Will Solomon added 16. Barcelona guard Juan Carlos Navarro got hot early and scored 15 first-half points, but was benched by coach Dusko Ivanovic and didn't play at all in the fourth quarter. Baston dominated early, finishing the first quarter with 11 points - six coming from dunks on the offensive glass. But Barcelona stayed close and the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime with the yellow-and-blue holding a narrow 37-35 lead. Maccabi broke the game open in the third quarter with an early 12-2 run, which Barca never recovered from. The visitors did mount a late charge to trim the gap to nine, but it would prove to be too little, too late as Maccabi quickly put the game out of reach.